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Court strikes down law denying access to accident reports

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         TEXAS         Freedom of Information         Mar 29, 2000    

Court strikes down law denying access to accident reports

  • A trial judge found that a state law limiting access to reports of traffic accidents violates the state Constitution.

Without explanation, a state trial court said in mid-March that a state law limiting public access to traffic accident reports is unconstitutional.

The law, which was passed in 1997, required people seeking access to traffic accident records to know the name of someone involved and the date or address of the accident. The law also prohibited anyone from publishing the accident information on the Internet.

The Texas Press Association and the Texas Daily Newspaper Association brought suit in state court challenging the law.

Travis County Judge Paul Davis, who had earlier issued a temporary restraining order forbidding enforcement of the law, said the law was unconstitutional in a two-sentence letter issued March 15 to the parties. A formal opinion is expected later.

Judge Davis also put to rest questions about whether accident records should be withheld in light of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Reno v. Condon, which upheld the federal Drivers Privacy Protection Act’s ban on public access to some drivers’ license information.

Although drivers’ licenses and traffic accident reports contained some of the same information, Judge Davis also said law enforcement agencies could not use the DPPA to deny public access to accident information.

Supporters of the law said it was needed to prevent chiropractors and lawyers from using accident records to solicit clients.

(Texas Daily Newspaper Association v. Cornyn; Media Counsel: David Donaldson, Austin)

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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