Q&A: Accident reports


Submitted by the Churubusco News:

Q: The Whitley County Sheriff’s Department refuses to make available its traffic accident report. The sheriff says they can be purchased at www.buycrash.com.

I don’t want to purchase copies, just look at the reports and make notes. Can I no longer do this?

A: You should be allowed to inspect the accident reports for free.

Following is my examination of the relevant statute concerning accident reports that you can share with the sheriff’s department.

I’ve looked over IC 9-29-11-1 for evidence of legislative permission to charge individuals to “inspect” an accident report. My analysis determined the law does not allow you to be charged to view a report.

Following would be the argument:

• Subsection (a) clearly allows a fiscal body by ordinance to charge a fee of no less than $5 “for each report.”

• Subsection (b) directs where the money collected shall be deposited, but note that in (1), (2), and (3), the repeated language is “the department supplying a copy of the accident report.” There is no reference to any cost to inspect records.

• Subsection (c) addresses the state police and allows it to charge a fee not less than $5 “for each report” and the “inspection and copying of other related data maintained by the department.”

I read that as authorization for the Indiana State Police to charge a fee not less than $5 to copy documents/data derived from the accident reports.

For example, a father going to a police department to take a look at his teen son’s official accident report should be allowed to inspect it at no cost, but if he wants to take a copy home with him, he’ll have to pay the fee.

And a person trying to extract some information from the ISP database of accidents could be charged a fee to inspect a report created by ISP from that data.

Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at skey@hspa.com or (317) 624-4427.