Traffic Accident and DMV Records
Q: I’m trying to obtain traffic accident information from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Every accident with more than $750 in damages to property, injury, or fatality is required to have a SR-1 form filled out and filed. The document states its a public document available for review and the Vehicle Code lists five portions available for review “upon request”, but the DMV is saying its only for review by the parties involved in the case.
Can I access this information? Is it illegal, after obtaining the public information, to pass it along to a third party?
A: Under Public Records Act (“PRA”), public records (which include “any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics,” Govt. Code Section 6252(e)), are open to the public unless a specific provision of the PRA exempts them from disclosure. Section 6254(k) of the PRA exempts from disclosure any information that is exempt pursuant to state or federal
law. Section 16005 of the California Vehicle Code makes the information on SR-1 accident reports confidential and subject to disclosure only to those with a “proper interest” in the information, and includes a list of the types of categories of persons that are considered to have the necessary “proper interest.”
Section 16005 of the Cal. Vehicle Code provides:
“(a) All reports and supplemental reports required by this chapter including insurance information forms shall be without prejudice to the individual so reporting and shall be for the confidential use of the department and any other state department requiring such information, except that the department shall upon request disclose from the reports:
(1) The names and addresses of persons involved in the accident.
(2) The registration numbers and descriptions of vehicles involved in the accident.
(3) The date, time, and location of the accident.
(4) Any suspension action taken by the department.
(5) The names and addresses of insurers.
(b) The information specified in subdivision (a) may be given to any person having a proper interest therein, including:
(1) The driver or drivers involved, or the employer, parent, or legal guardian thereof.
(2) The authorized representative of any person involved in the accident.
(3) Any person injured in the accident.
(4) The owners of vehicles or property damaged in the accident.
(5) Any law enforcement agency.
(6) Any court of competent jurisdiction.”
In short, therefore, unless you fall under one of the categories of
persons with a “proper interest,” it appears that such information can
properly be withheld by the DMV under the PRA.