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State “protecting” traffic information

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Hawaii’s Transportation Department spends millions of dollars each year studying traffic safety, but the agency does not share the findings with the public or other government agencies. Hawaii is one of a few US states that withhold the information to protect against lawsuits claiming the state moved too slowly to correct known traffic hazards. Transportation officials say the threat of multi-million dollar settlements justifies withholding the information, and they would rather use the money for safety improvement projects. "I’d like to make the state a model for information-sharing like other places, where they don’t have to worry about having that information thrown back into their faces by the attorneys," said Alvin Takeshita, head of the state DoT’s Traffic Branch. Under state and federal law, state traffic data are inadmissible in civil cases, but Takeshita said attorneys get around the law by introducing county police reports with the same information. Other states have opted to release the data after redacting personal information about those involved in crashes. Some states have tried to make the data as accessible as possible by posting the information on public websites, so that drivers and pedestrians can see which locations have the most crashes. Critics of the state’s policy say the public needs to see the state data to determine whether state and county transportation officials are making good decisions about which crash locations to improve or repair, and to make informed decisions about where and when to travel.

Reported in CDC Public Health Law News. Contributed by Ian Scott.