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Court Rules Government Can’t Withhold ‘Early Warning’ Accident Data

July 24, 2008

The U.S. government may not withhold so-called “Early Warning” data on serious car accidents from the public, according to the Los Angeles Times.The July 21 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia could soon put crash information collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration into the hands of journalists, consumer watchdogs and others.

Under a provision of a 2000 law, tire makers, car manufacturers, motorcycle companies and child-seat producers, among others must report information on defects, injuries, deaths and damage related to their products. That law was passed largely in response to a string of rollovers involving Ford Explorers with Firestone tires that killed several hundred people and forced one of the biggest tire recalls ever.

The law "was intended to prevent needless deaths and injuries . . . by giving regulators and the public quick access to information manufacturers have about crashes involving their products," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, the plaintiff in the case.

Industry groups who are not in favor of the law, such as the Rubber Manufacturers Assn., a tire industry group, argue that the data are proprietary and that the law does not require the government to reveal the information. The July 21 decision threw out those arguments, and numerous groups, including Public Citizen, said they would file requests for the data under the Freedom of Information Act, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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