It should be within a private citizen’s grasp to identify a dangerous intersection in their community and ask the state to make it safer. Unfortunately, obtaining the data to prove that a particular place on a public road has been prone to recurring accidents is more complicated than it seems. 

The lack of transparency from the state and local government can seem unjust and frustrating. But it’s important to understand how the state is protecting itself and why. From there, concerned citizens can learn how to effectively collect public road information to keep their communities safe.  

How and why can the state withhold accident data? 

A lesser-known provision of federal law, known as Section 409, allows states to keep important engineering studies, accident reports, and other data private from members of the public. Many citizens aren’t aware of this law, and are stymied when they request intersection data that they previously assumed was public record.

This law was put in place to protect the government from being sued for neglecting a recurring pattern of accidents in the same location, and then failing to make the necessary repairs and redesigns to make that location safer.

How can a concerned citizen circumvent public record secrecy?

Despite Section 409, it is still possible for citizens to obtain information on public roads-- depending on a few factors.

Firstly, states are more likely to honor a request for raw data instead of analyzed reports. However, it often takes a trained expert to pour through these files and turn it into a comprehensible study-- A service that few community activists have the means of paying for out of pocket.

Secondly, governments will offer analyzed data and a cohesive record of road accidents, as long as the person requesting the data agrees to never use those records in a lawsuit against the state. Refusing to do so will inhibit a citizen’s goal in receiving any analyzed reports, but may preserve that citizen’s ability to secure a settlement in a lawsuit.

Lastly, accessibility to information depends on a state’s public record law. Obtaining any records (analyzed or raw data) depends greatly on how robust these laws are.

Seek guidance, and contact an attorney.

Navigating this nuanced process can be taxing, especially if you or a loved one have been involved in an accident.. A qualified Chicago accident lawyer can help you navigate the claims process and get you the compensation you deserve. With more than 25 years of experience, Hurley McKenna & Mertz, P.C. has the kind of resources and expertise you need to build your case. For a free consultation, call 312-553-4900.