In cities and towns in Maryland and across the country, concerned citizens often seek to make their roads safer. They try to get signs or stoplights installed, or other safety devices. Sometimes, victims of accidents want to demonstrate that an area where they were injured is unusually dangerous, or that the area sees an abnormally high number of car accidents.
You would think that the ability to get basic safety and accident data about a public roadway would be pretty easy, but in fact, as documented by a USA Today article featuring a Maryland resident who tried to do just that, getting roadway accident data can be a daunting challenge.
Maryland Resident Can Not Get Safety Data
The story details a Maryland resident who tried to get accident data on a road where an accident occurred that killed multiple people. He sought engineering studies done by the state on the roadway, but the state denied his request, and he spent eight years trying to get that data.
Maryland’s General Assembly actually did pass a law allowing some records to be disclosed that relate to how the state selects roads to be repaired or renovated, but that law does not give open access to all of Maryland’s internal roadway safety inspections.
Even when states and local governments give accident data on a specific roadway, they are often hesitant to disclose internal engineering reports of studies that are done on roadways to determine safety. Many states rely on a federal law, which they say allows them to shield information like these engineering studies, which could be used against the state to sue them for failing to make repairs, or for poor designs of roadways.
This is why so many traffic and accident studies are released by insurance companies. The insurance companies are private companies that produce their own studies, but they may not accurately reflect the actual accident rate of a given roadway.
Why Reports are Important
Engineering and safety studies are important for accident victims when demonstrating that a state agency knew, or should have known, that a roadway needs repair, or that it is designed poorly. In many cases, experts hired by accident victims can not produce their own opinions without the information that is contained in the state’s internal engineering documents.
States contend that they conduct the studies to determine which roads are dangerous and which may need fixing, and that they would not be able to do that freely if there was a chance those reports could be used against them.
In fact the Supreme Court agreed with the states, ruling that the public interest in safe roadways that is created when states can freely gather engineering data without fear of disclosure, outweighed individuals’ rights to obtain the information.
If you or your family are injured on an unsafe roadway in a car accident, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your case.