Posted on Mar 22, 2005 in Formal Opinions

Opinion Letter No. 05-06
March 22, 2005
Traffic Accident Reports and Data

The Honolulu Advertiser (“Advertiser”) and the Department of Transportation (“DOT”) asked OIP for an opinion regarding the Advertiser’s request to DOT for an electronic copy of all statistical data on major vehicle traffic accidents reported to DOT for the calendar years 2002 and 2003 (“Accident Data”).

DOT maintains a traffic accident database derived from the State of Hawaii’s Motor Vehicle Accident Report Forms. The Advertiser had previously obtained the Accident Data from the Honolulu Police Department, but was now specifically seeking that same information in the electronic format maintained by DOT.

DOT denied the Advertiser’s record request, citing 23 U.S.C. § 152, chapter (sic) 291C-20, HRS, and section 15-5.3, Revised Ordinances of Honolulu, as the basis for the denial, but efforts were made by the parties to resolve the issue.

DOT represented to OIP that DOT’s software allows it to display all 67 fields of the traffic accident database, but that it does not allow DOT to segregate the information fields and display selected fields within the traffic accident database.

This is relevant because the traffic accident database includes fields of information containing drivers’ personal information that may be protected from disclosure and that, in any event, the Advertiser indicated it was not seeking. DOT further represented that it contacted the license holder of its software to determine the cost of obtaining the software that would allow it to display only selected fields from its traffic accident database and was quoted a cost of approximately $20,000.

OIP concluded that 23 U.S.C. § 409 does not make the traffic accident database confidential and thereby protected from disclosure under the UIPA. OIP further concluded that the privacy exception, section 92F-13(1), HRS, may allow DOT to withhold certain information or fields of information, but the traffic accident database, in its entirety, cannot be withheld from disclosure under the UIPA.

Based upon DOT’s representation that it does not have the ability to segregate the personal information (that it is likely entitled to withhold from disclosure) from the traffic accident database without purchasing additional software at the cost of approximately $20,000, however, OIP found that DOT is not required to make the Accident Data available in the requested electronic form. OIP further found that the UIPA and its administrative rules did not require DOT to incur the cost to purchase the software that would allow it to segregate the traffic accident database. However, in the event that the Advertiser is willing to pay the software cost, DOT would then be required to make the segregated Accident Data available in the electronic format requested.

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