Car Crash Data Must go Public, Court Rules

The public will have access to previously secret government data about serious car accidents, a court ruled this week.

The decision, by the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., found that the National Highway Safety Administration may not withhold so-called Early Warning data about serious accidents collected from manufacturers of automobiles, tires, child car seats and other related industries.

The companies have been required to submit the data to the government since 2003, under the TREAD Act, which was inspired by problems with Ford Explorers bearing Firestone tires that resulted in one of the largest tire recalls ever conducted.

But industry groups — notably the Rubber Manufacturers Association, a tiremaker trade organization — have fought to keep the information from the public, arguing that the data are proprietary.

The advocacy group Public Citizen sued to have the data available under the Freedom of Information Act, and the decision Tuesday ruled in its favor.

In a statement, Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said, “The TREAD Act was intended to prevent needless deaths and injuries, like those in the Ford/Firestone tire tragedy, by giving regulators and the public quick access to information manufacturers have about crashes involving their products. Public availability of information under FOIA is critical to achieving that goal.”

The Los Angeles Times quoted a Rubber Manufacturers Association statement as saying, “With this decision, unverified information released by the government can be misinterpreted and thereby unnecessarily alarm motorists about products that are safe.”

–Will Crain/


“Government can’t withhold data on serious car accidents, court rules”
Los Angeles Times, July 23, 2008

“Court Upholds Public Access to Crash Data”
Public Citizen, July 22, 2008

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