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May 2, 2017 1:00 PM

Senate committee endorses amendment allowing local police to distribute accident reports

CONCORD — Insurance workers, law enforcement officers and local attorney's joined together Tuesday in support of an amendment that would allow local police departments to distribute accident reports.

The Senate Judiciary Committee listened to testimonies during a hearing Tuesday morning and voted 5-0 to endorse an amendment to the Driver Privacy Act. The amendment would make it clear that local chiefs can disseminate accident reports to include "name, age and town of residence of persons involved in accidents" and any other information allowed under the Right-to-Know Law.

This state law was meant to comply with the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) that in 1994 spelled out what state motor vehicle departments could disclose on information contained in their records.

This controversy arose from an April 6 meeting at the Department of Safety during which the discussion focused primarily on the dissemination of vehicle accident reports.

At that session, the police chief's lobby said they were told they could no longer give out traffic accident reports and warned that if they continued the practice they would be charged with a misdemeanor. And if a local department sells an accident report to an insurance company for the traditional $25 to $50 fee, they could face a felony charge.

In the hearing Tuesday, several people spoke in support of the amendment, presented by Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, arguing that it creates several hurdles for those in the insurance business, the legal process that follows an accident and the officers who handle it.

Personal Injury and Family Law Attorney Anna Zimmerman gave an example of one client dealing with the delay on accident reports in a costly way. The gentleman was in a wreck caused by another drive, but since he was taken by ambulance to the hospital after the wreck, he was unable to obtain all the proper information.

"This is a problem for a lot of our clients," Zimmerman began. "The difficulty he encountered is that the story that's getting told by the other party to the insurance company is a little different, and he can't get the report and the insurance company can't get the report, so, we're just waiting."

Meanwhile, the car is in storage and accumulating towing expenses. A case that could be very quickly handled with the report, now proves to be a very expensive and lengthy process for Zimmerman's client, she said.

Also, report backups at the DMV could pose another hurdle.

"I've heard that the state is reportedly six months behind in processing accident reports currently and that's with the majority of accidents reports going through the police departments," local attorney Kathleen Davidson said. "So, if all of those are suddenly going through the state, I think they're going to have to hire more people to handle police reports."

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