Local police departments will likely continue to hand out vehicle accident reports after some confusion over whether they or New Hampshire’s Department of Motor Vehicles should have that power.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to back a bill clarifying local departments’ authority to share accident information with drivers involved and insurance companies.
“This makes it clear that the (Department of Safety’s) recent interpretation is reversed, and the traditional practice of allowing towns to distribute these kinds of accident reports will continue,” Republican Rep. Neal Kurk said.
The law requires drivers involved in accidents to provide each other with their names, addresses, license plate and registration numbers and the names and addresses of occupants in the cars. Local police departments that collect that information at the scene have long shared it with the parties involved if it’s not exchanged.
But the Department of Safety started telling local departments to stop in recent months, citing a new interpretation of the Driver Privacy Act, a law passed in 1996. Chief Andrew Shagoury, vice president of the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, said officers were told at various times that they could no longer hand out the information.
Lobbyists for State Farm insurance and the New Hampshire Electric Co-Op, as well as attorney Anna Zimmerman, said having to go through the Department of Motor Vehicles is a cumbersome process that can slow down insurance claims or other necessary actions.
Zimmerman, president of the New Hampshire Association for Justice, said she has clients who have had a hard time obtaining reports through the Department of Motor Vehicles that would otherwise be easy to get from the local police.
“It causes delays for both the insurance companies and for the people,” she said.
No one, including the Department of Safety, testified against the bill. Assistant Safety Commissioner Rick Bailey said some officials with safety and the attorney general’s office recently realized the law as written didn’t match up with traditional practice.
“The intent has always been that local law enforcement could provide this information about an accident to the parties involved,” Bailey said. “Clearly, with all the turmoil that you see the statute wasn’t clear on that.”
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