- Associated Press - Monday, June 22, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas State Police is citing a 21-year-old federal privacy law as their primary reason for withholding information from vehicle crash reports.

The agency’s new policy, which began June 4, means that the only personal information available on crash reports are the names and hometowns of fatalities, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (https://bit.ly/1eDvw2I ) reported. Other information, including the names of other drivers and passengers, is withheld.

The 1994 Drivers Privacy Protection Act prohibits personal information from motor vehicle reports from being made public, and the state agency contends it also covers police crash reports.

Agency spokesman Bill Sadler said that new software has given state police the means to now make the redactions. The agency said that manually redacting the information before on thousands of crash reports was too much of an administrative burden.

Unredacted crash reports now are only available to those who meet certain criteria, including people involved in the crash and parents or legal guardians requesting reports for minors, insurance companies and law enforcement.

A new state law requires that all information on minors be redacted. As a result, the agency in January stopped allowing “indiscriminate inspection of bulk or selected groups of crash reports collected by date or location” after arguing then that redacting minors’ information was overly burdensome on its employees.

Little Rock attorney Daniel Wren sued state police in May after his open-records request for access to unredacted reports was denied. He and other lawyers protested the January policy change in not allowing bulk inspection of crash reports because it prevents them from seeking potential clients.

Wren’s attorney argues the new state law mandates the redaction of minors’ information, but doesn’t allow for blanket denial of inspection of crash reports. The plaintiff also now contends that the federal law doesn’t apply to crash reports.

Delena Hurst, a lawyer for Arkansas State Police, wrote in court documents the requested accident reports pertains to motor vehicle records and is protected by the federal Drivers Privacy Protection Act, which “supersedes the Arkansas FOIA (Freedom Of Information Act) and is an exemption to it.” Hurst said she couldn’t comment on the pending case.

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com

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