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Bills Filed Ending Media and Public Access to Personal Information in Crash Reports and Traffic Citations (SB 1614 by Sen. Harrell; HB 1121 by Rep. Brannan)

Bills Filed Ending Media and Public Access to Personal Information in Crash Reports and Traffic Citations (SB 1614 by Sen. Harrell; HB 1121 by Rep. Brannan)

These companion bills would make personal information in crash reports and traffic citations off limits to the media and the public.

Currently, the law adopts a balanced approach regarding public availability and privacy. The law exempts the reports from the open records laws but only for a limited time– 60 days, which is intended to prevent solicitation of crash victims. However, even the 60-day exemption is limited in that the reports can be made immediately available to certain parties such as those involved in the crash, insurance and governmental entities, and certain media. In order for these entities (including media) to obtain early access to the reports, they must provide verifying information such as a photo id and a sworn statement not to use the information for commercial solicitation or disclose to third parties.

The bill ends the limited 60-day exemption and replaces it with an immediate and ongoing public records exemption. While agencies, attorneys, insurance agents, victim service programs, and other specific groups can still access the reports, media would no longer be able to access the information.

The bill says an agency “is not prohibited” from providing “summary reports” such as the date and location, names of drivers, description of the vehicle, responding officers, arrests, etc.  However, this will be totally at the discretion of the government officials.

Similarly, the bill goes on to exempt driver information contained in a traffic citation and prohibits using driver information contained in traffic citations for commercial purposes. As for the media, use of the information for news purposes will no longer be excluded as commercial purpose.

We believe the bill, by jettisoning the current balanced approach, will result in important information being kept secret to the public relating to roads and traffic in the state. This will be compounded by Marsy’s Law, which is being used to automatically redact information from official documents, purportedly relating to crime victims.

Under the bill, with crash report information exempt, the public will not be able to verify whether a government official was involved in a crash and it will be harder to pin down if governmental agencies are at fault regarding accidents and road conditions.

Further, regarding redacted traffic citation information, it will be harder to track tickets being disproportionally issued in certain areas.

The bill cites concerns over exploitation of personal information and focuses on the illegal use of personal information. However, as others have pointed out, the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act DPPA cited in the bill is not a generally privacy statute and is only meant to protect motor vehicle records – not records created for a different uses, like traffic citations or crash reports.

FPA will be opposing the bills. We ask members to contact their legislators and write editorials underling the drawbacks of the bills.  Thank you in advance for your help.