Thursday, November 17, 2011

Louisiana Highway Department Will Not Give Crash Data To College Student for Service Learning Project

Centenary College Student, Trevor Stine, is using U.S. Census Bureau's On the Map to tell Shreveport's story of how Caddo Parish, Louisiana residents are relocating their homes in the City's core for bigger sprawled out homes on the outskirts of town due to perceived crime, and low quality education in Shreveport. In addition, the state highway department has helped fuel the exodus out of Shreveport's core thanks to good arterials to get them to work in under 20 minutes.

Trevor is working with the citizen advocacy group,, as part of Centenary College's service learning program required by all students.'s mission is to improve the quality of life in Shreveport using proven best management practices in transportation, economic development, education, permaculture, and urban planning in general. Each student gets to select the nonprofit organization of their choice, and Trevor wanted to work with to help them get maps of the City and Parish's demographics and economic stats on maps for citizens to learn about our stark situation regarding quality of life. No other entity (public or private) in Shreveport has maps of the area's demographics online as of 2011.

Under the direction of Strategic Director, Stephanie Pedro, Trevor requested crash data from the Louisiana Highway Department, LA-DOTD, and he received this response:

Good Morning Mr. Stine,

I have spoken to our local traffic engineer and the crash report data that you requested is protected by 23 USC 409 and is not given out to the public. 23 USC 409 is the designation of a legal statute established by federal law. I apologize that I cannot assist you further with you questions but please feel free to contact me with any other questions or concerns you may have. Thank you for contacting the DOTD.

Have a great day,

Susan Stafford
Public Information Officer
Department of Transportation and Development
318-549-8402 Office
318-230-8985 Cell

If no other entity, including our own DOTD, is mapping out important data that could lead to better decision-making, then why is this information not being shared with college students who are offering to dissect this data for free?  Hopefully Streetsblog and Secretary LaHood will pick this article up and share with us how other communities are dealing with 23 USC 409.

In addition, it appears that LA-DOTD is already having problems with their code: 
From Louisiana Injury Lawyer Blog:  In Quinn v. State of Louisiana, DOTD, 2009-0085 (La.App. 1 Cir. 12/23/09), writ denied, 2010-358 (La.4/23/10), the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal, in an opinion not designated for publication, held that once the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) chooses to exercise the privilege set forth in 23 U.S.C. §409, that protects from discovery any reports, surveys, schedules, lists or data compiled or collected for the purpose of identifying, evaluating or planning the safety enhancement of potential accident sites and hazardous roadway conditions, and which prevents the plaintiff from discovering any evidence of prior accidents at a location involving an alleged highway defect, that it follows that DOTD is then precluded from offering any evidence establishing an absence of other accidents at the same location at trial. In other words, "DOTD cannot have its cake and eat it too. If plaintiffs cannot discover and use the evidence of prior accidents, then DOTD should not be able to use evidence of the lack of prior accidents to prove no defect, all the while preventing plaintiffs from verifying the accuracy of DOTD's representation that no accidents occurred."


Steph Pedro said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Meaux said...

Here's the current law:

23 USC Section 409 Discovery and admission as evidence of certain reports and surveys

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, reports, surveys, schedules, lists, or data compiled or collected for the purpose of identifying, evaluating, or planning the safety enhancement of potential accident sites, hazardous roadway conditions, or railway-
highway crossings, pursuant to sections 130, 144, and 148 of this title or for the purpose of developing any highway safety construction improvement project which may be implemented utilizing Federal-aid highway funds shall not be subject to discovery or admitted into evidence in a Federal or State court proceeding or considered for other purposes in any action for damages arising from any occurrence at a location mentioned or addressed in such reports, surveys, schedules, lists, or data.

Here's a Louisiana Supreme Court Case discussing it:

Reichert v. State, Dept. of Transp. and Development, 694 So.2d 193 (La., 1997)

"23 U.S.C. § 409 was enacted to preclude from discovery and evidence any report, survey, schedule, list, or data collected or compiled for developing any highway safety construction improvement project which may be implemented with Federal-aid funds. The purpose of section 409 is to "[f]oster the free flow of safety-related information by precluding the possibility that such information later would be admissible in civil suits. The interest to be served by such legislation is to obtain information with regard to the safety of roadways free from the fear of future tort actions." Perkins v. Ohio Dept. Of Transp., 65 Ohio App.3d 487, 584 N.E.2d 794 (1989), cause dismissed, 57 Ohio St.3d 612, 566 N.E.2d 673, reh'g denied, 58 Ohio St.3d 711, 570 N.E.2d 281 (1991)."

This law is not intended to keep college students from having access to safety data for academic purposes. On the contrary the law is meant to remove the fear that such information could be used in civil liability cases so that the information may flow freely and to encourage the use this student is seeking to make.

Maurice Loridans
Attorney at Law

Loren Demerath said...

Given Maurice's interpretation of the law, it looks like Ms. Stafford can give Trevor the data after all. I'll email her a notice of this post. No doubt she thinks she's doing the right thing. I bet we'll get it sorted out.

Ancient Greece Maps - 8 Maps said...

Good and another post from you admin :)