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Drivers’ phone numbers to be cut off crash reports

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 Texas Transportation Commission is scheduled to consider the new reporting form at a meeting today in Fort Worth.

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 members said in their recommendation to the commission. The commission oversees TxDOT.

The Texas Department of Public Safety, which also has a say on the forms, agreed in 2008 to drop the numbers after questions were raised about the potential for insurance fraud.
The numbers were reinstated after a lawsuit by a chiropractor and a business that gathers crash report information for clients. They argued that 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 Tx-DOT 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, TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott said.

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 say that 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 insur ance companies, said “The recommendation allows Texas transportation commissioners to go, with their gut feeling that no one wants this type of solicitation.”

I, for once, agree with the insurance company as I have multiple clients who have had phone calls for medical and legal services before and after they hire me.  In addition, some have claimed they worked for the insurance company or the doctor worked for the insurance company.

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