There's a massive, country-wide freakout going on in the UK after reports that anyone involved in a crash would have their mobile phone seized and inspected by police to determine if they were distracted when the crash took place. And the chief cop behind the hysteria isn't helping matters.
Nearly every major national and regional news outlet in the UK (and beyond) has breathlessly reported on a directive apparently sent to officers to check the phones of drivers at every crash site in the country.
Gloucestershire Chief Constable Suzette Davenport was reportedly behind the new guidance, which extended a practice normally reserved for crashes where someone was seriously injured or killed.
Suzette Davenport, chief constable of Gloucestershire Police who is [Association of Chief Police Officers]'s lead on roads policing, has said she will be changing the advise given to officers in at [sic] attempt the number of accidents caused by distracted drivers.
But Davenport fired back in a statement the following day:
At no point have I issued guidance to officers to seize mobile phones from drivers at the site of every road traffic collision.
It is fair to say that we as a service are looking at ways of making officers and drivers more aware of the difference between the offences of driving while not in proper control of the vehicle - which is a distraction offence - and driving while using a mobile phone. Part of this process involves making sure officers know the best means of using information within a driver's mobile phone when building evidence for a successful prosecution, such as finding from call or text logs if the phone was in use at the time of an incident.
It has been standard practice to seize mobile phones from drivers at the scenes of very serious collisions for some time as part of the information and evidence gathering process, but it is not now, nor will it be, standard practice to seize phones from drivers after every collision.
So if we're getting this straight, UK police won't be seizing every phone, just the ones the officers believe could be useful in a prosecution – a difference without much of distinction.
Back here in the states, the Supreme Court recently ruled that driver's mobile phones can't be searched without a warrant. Granted, it would only take an officer a phone call and a couple of hours to get one from a judge, depending on the case, but the ruling was clear – and unanimous.
And in a beautiful coincidence, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion:
Our cases have recognized that the Fourth Amendment was the founding generation's response to the reviled "general warrants" and "writs of assistance" of the colonial era, which allowed British officers to rummage through homes in an unrestrained search for evidence of criminal activity. Opposition to such searches was in fact one of the driving forces behind the Revolution itself.
Historical irony aside, we're trying to find any reports of driver's mobile phones being confiscated in the U.S., so if you're aware of anything, let us know.