Arkansas court says accident reports are open to public
Apr. 28, 2016
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas State Police cannot redact all driver and survivor information on accident reports, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The court's opinion upholds a lower court's ruling that the information, including names and addresses of drivers and passengers in non-fatal auto accidents, is public information.
State police began redacting the information in response to a state law passed last year that requires law enforcement officers to withhold juvenile information on those reports. The agency cited the two decades-old federal Driver Privacy Protection Act in deciding to withhold more than the juvenile records.
Attorneys for the state had argued that in most cases, troopers use the magnetic strip on the back of drivers' licenses to auto-populate the accident report information. The strip links directly to information provided by the state's motor vehicle information system, which can only release a driver's information to a handful of approved agencies or people.
Little Rock attorney Daniel Wren filed the lawsuit against the Arkansas State Police for access to crash reports after his Freedom of Information Act request for them was denied. Wren admitted in his filing that he was trying to gain access to a batch of reports to solicit clients.
The court's majority ruling said personal information protected under the federal law specifically does not include information on accident reports.
"Congress specifically provided that 'personal information' does not include information on vehicular accidents. Because the (federal law) does not prohibit information contained in accident reports from being released under FOIA, we affirm the ruling of the circuit court," Justice Robin Wynne wrote in the majority opinion.
Two justices dissented. In that written dissent Justice Karen Baker wrote that the majority erred by focusing on the whole accident reports, rather than considering the specific information contained within them. She said because Arkansas does not require the specific personal information often included on accident reports, that information is not pertinent to the accident and should be protected.