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Spanish police to have powers to check cellphone calls of drivers involved in crashes

The new measure will, however, only be available with a court order, and will not permit officers to carry out on-the-spot checks

Civil Guard officers at a road accident.
Civil Guard officers at a road accident. EFE

Spain is closing the net even tighter on drivers who use their cellphones at the wheel. According to Civil Guard sources, Bartolomé Vargas, a Supreme Court prosecutor and coordinator of Road Safety in Spain, has just sent out an order to the state authorities that monitor the country’s roads that will allow them to request the examination of calls made and received on the phones of drivers involved in a crash. But this will not be an on-the-spot inspection, and judicial authorization will be needed.

The use of cellphones while driving has been revealed to be one of the main threats to road safety in Spain – a number of studies have found that the practice increases the risk of accidents by 20%.

The accident in question will not have to be very serious for a magistrate to request call data

The new process will allow police and Civil Guard officers who suspect that a driver was distracted at the wheel by their phone to call on a judge to request a detailed report from the cellphone company in question of the times and durations of calls. This has not been permitted before in Spain, and the accident in question will not have to be very serious for a magistrate to request this data.

The examination of the calls will not, however, be the determining factor for punishable action, and will also be conditioned by other circumstances. For example, a call made through the vehicle’s Bluetooth system, which is legal, will not be punished. It will be up to officers to decide whether the situation merits a request to examine the call log.

Currently, using a cellphone while driving is punishable with a €200 fine and three points removed from the driver’s license. If an accident results in serious injuries or death, the case will go to criminal proceedings and can result in a prison sentence.

Bartolomé Vargas, the prosecutor of the Supreme Court.
Bartolomé Vargas, the prosecutor of the Supreme Court.

Traffic apps

The Civil Guard is also seeking powers to take action against cellphone applications that warn drivers about police roadblocks and alcohol and drugs checks on Spanish streets and highways. Civil Guard sources explain that they have suggested that they should be able to examine cellphones to check for such applications and impose fines for their use. The authorities have noticed that the intensity of traffic falls considerably just minutes after they set up a roadblock – presumably due to these apps warning drivers.

But legal sources have stated that such a measure would be “completely unworkable.” “Without a prior court order, officers cannot examine a driver’s cellphone nor its content. That would violate the constitutional right to private communications, and not everything goes in a state with the rule of law,” the same sources said.

English version by Asia London Palomba.

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