Beginning Monday, phone numbers of people involved in car accidents will no longer routinely be included on police reports in many Texas cities.
The change will prevent harassment of crash victims, who often get bombarded with calls from telemarketers, said Mark Hanna, a spokesman for the Texas Committee on Insurance Fraud. Last week, the group reached an agreement with the Texas departments of public safety and transportation for the change to be made.
"If you're in an accident, 48 hours later you'll get a minimum of a dozen calls," Hanna said. "They'll do everything it takes to get you to see a chiropractor. They'll tell you they're with your insurance company. They'll offer free legal advice. They're present-day ambulance chasers."
But open-government advocates are concerned about the change.
"Any time the government acts to take away truthful information about an event that happens in public, that is certainly a cause for scrutiny, if not concern," said Paul Watler, a Dallas lawyer and past president of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. "There are a number of uses for information about persons involved in traffic accidents. Any categorical approach to a situation like this that takes information away from the public is something that should be looked at more closely."
Telemarketers typically buy police reports in bulk. Efforts to delay the release of accident reports for 30 days after crashes were unsuccessful during the 2007 legislative session, Hanna said.
So after the session, representatives of the insurance committee and public safety and transportation departments informally agreed to remove the blank space on police accident reports where officers typically write down the phone numbers of those involved. The change was considered minor and didn't require legislative action, Hanna said.
The new form will be made available to police agencies statewide beginning today, and most Texas cities will be using the form by June 1.
Telemarketers will still be able to look up accident victims' phone numbers in a phone book or online. But unlisted numbers, cellphone numbers and workplace contact information will no longer be readily available.Supporters predict that the action will cut unsolicited calls in half.