Editorial: The waiting game on police reports is needless

  • Images from a Friday afternoon car crash in Belmont show a vehicle badly damaged after striking trees and utility poles. The Belmont police have declined to give the name of the individual involved in the crash because of recent confusion about what information is allowed to be given out under the Driver Privacy Act.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

A traffic accident is a public event that in a great majority of cases, takes place on public property. The public typically pays a price for the accident in police, fire and other costs, and often in lost in time. The details of such events, the names of the people involved, the police report on the accident and the charges filed should, and long were, considered public information.

Lately, with no explanation, the Department of Safety, with the support of the state's attorney general, decided that accident report information must not be released by local law enforcement agencies but instead must be sent to Concord where it is to be disclosed at the discretion of someone in that agency. Ostensibly, the change was made to comply with a new interpretation of the 1999 Drivers Privacy Act, a much-amended piece of legislation open to interpretation.

The new interpretation of the act has slowed the processing of insurance claims. The Department of Motor Vehicles website now includes a warning that it may take police weeks to submit an accident report. There will be added wait while that busy agency gets around to reviewing the report and authorizing its release. That means a longer wait for money to repair or replace vehicles and other needless inconveniences.

The new policy also has made for a longer wait for media to report on accidents and a longer wait for people affected by them to find out what happened and why they were held up, sometimes for hours, on a road or highway.

The act’s original sponsor, Weare Rep. Neal Kurk, believes the new interpretation is incorrect. So does Dover Sen. David Watters. He's crafted legislation designed to clarify the law to make clear that police departments can, and in our opinion should, release such information promptly. Support for that effort deserves to be unanimous.