In a blow to businesses that contact drivers after car wrecks, Texas' law enforcement and transportation agencies have agreed to drop telephone numbers from crash reports.
The inclusion of phone numbers on the reports has prompted several transportation commissioners to express concerns about privacy. If adopted by the Commission, the new form would be used starting Jan. 1.
"The need for and uses of the phone number do not outweigh the privacy concerns that the collection, storage, and release of the phone number creates," Texas Department of Transportation staff said in its recommendation to the commission. The commission oversees TxDOT.
The Texas Department of Public Safety, which also has a say on the forms, in 2008 agreed to drop the numbers after concerns were raised about insurance fraud.
The numbers were reinstated, however, after a lawsuit by a chiropractor and a business that gathers crash-report information for clients. They successfully argued the state had to follow a formal rule-making process to make the change.
This year, DPS officials changed course and said they wanted to keep the numbers on the forms for law enforcement purposes. Transportation commissioners balked; the two agencies said they'd talk.
In the latest turn, the TxDOT staff recommendation posted Monday said, "The Department of Public Safety has determined that, although the phone number can be helpful for follow up crash investigation issues, it is not vital to the form."
DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said by e-mail that his agency is "confident the concerns we have previously expressed regarding the contents of the form can be adequately addressed in other ways."
An investigating officer can still put a phone number into the narrative portion of the report or into separate notes, said TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott.
Deleting it from the form, however, would make things difficult for businesses that purchase crash records from local law enforcement agencies so that they can call and offer medical or other services to those involved.
Insurers contend such telemarketing prompts fraud, creating or inflating claims. Insurance regulators supported removing the numbers. Businesses using the phone numbers say poor people in particular benefit from calls that allow them to get services paid for by the insurer of the at-fault driver.
Douglas Becker, attorney for the two entities that sued last year, said, "I think it's sacrificing what's good for the people in favor of what's good for the insurance companies. I just think it's disgusting and not the way government ought to act."
Mark Hanna of the Texas Committee on Insurance Fraud and the Insurance Council of Texas, which represents hundreds of insurance companies, called the proposal "a monumental step in bringing telephone solicitation of crash victims to a screeching halt. The recommendation allows Texas transportation commissioners to go with their gut feeling that no one wants this type of solicitation."