Skip to main content

Want to know how dangerous Delaware's intersections are? That information may soon be available


play
Show Caption

Delaware is no stranger to crashes – and certain intersections seem to be much more dangerous for drivers and pedestrians than others.

But when it comes to identifying them, planning a safer morning commute or researching traffic issues near a planned development, it's nearly impossible to find hard data about where these crashes are occurring and why.

That’s partially why state legislators passed Senate Bill 28, which aims to increase public access to the state’s accident statistics and reports.

This bill, signed by the governor Sept. 15, ultimately allows the Delaware Department of Transportation to share unidentifiable data with the public through its website.

In other words, when this new website is rolled out, everyday Delawareans can sit at their kitchen table and use a portal on DelDOT’s website to learn how many accidents have happened at a specific intersection. 

One reason for this change is to empower residents who want to access this data more efficiently, according to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Stephanie Hansen. This becomes especially important as communities throughout the state continue to grow, especially in Sussex County where building permits and development proposals seem to only climb.

“It would be best if people didn’t have to file a FOIA request to get the information,” Hansen said, “or, (they) didn’t have to contact their legislator about a development project and only then get the information.”

It should be noted, too, that accident data is still not public information under this new bill. 

TRAFFIC: In effort to reduce crashes, tractor-trailers barred from part of I-95 in Wilmington

Instead, as Hansen clarified, the Department of  Safety and Homeland Security is making some “de-identified data” available through DelDOT’s website. This data must include certain information, such as alcohol or drug use; date and time of the accident; and road, lighting and weather conditions.

This comes after Delaware Online/The News Journal has argued for access to crash data to publish reports about the state’s most dangerous intersections.

For years, DelDOT provided that data, but then the agency stopped.

In 2019, state legislators signed an earlier amendment to the same part of the state code, which reinforced an interpretation of the law that DelDOT did not have the authority to share this data because the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security owned the information.

After that, Hansen said, legislators formed a working group to determine how to ensure the public could still access de-identified data.

And that’s how this new amendment took shape.

SAFETY: Here's how to stay safe while sharing the road with mopeds, scooters at Delaware beaches

What this means for you

This bill does two major things for public access.

  1. The state will make some data public through press releases, publications or a state-managed website.
  2. Anyone who wants to access additional data for public safety purposes can purchase the data through a contract with the Delaware Criminal Justice Information System.

In the text of the bill, it is clear that the state does not have to publish all of its de-identified crash data on the website. It has other options of publication, and the Department of Safety and Homeland Security has the sole discretion to determine what data can be disclosed.

But the bill does set requirements for the data the department chooses to publish on the state website. It must include:

  1. Accident classification
  2. Manner of impact
  3. Alcohol or drug involvement
  4. Date and time of an accident
  5. Conditions regarding road surface, lighting and weather
  6. Seat belt or helmet use
  7. Geographic location
  8. Primary contributing circumstances

When asked whether the state could then still limit what information it publishes on its website, Hansen said these requirements set the bare minimum for what the agencies must publish.

She said the state can always publish more information – that these parameters are “the floor, not the ceiling” of what it can release.

While there is not a date for when this website will be available, the Department of Technology and Information assured state legislators that it would not take long to produce.

BICYCLE SAFETY: After another bicyclist was seriously injured on a Delaware road, what comes next?

Beyond this public information on the DelDOT portal, the only other way that someone – who is not a legislator or part of a municipality – can access additional data is through a contract with the state.

Because this section of the bill requires that the contracting party request this data for a use related to public safety, Hansen said it’s more likely that a company like Carfax or a news organization will take advantage of this option, rather than an individual.

Car manufacturers and companies like Carfax use state data to update safety information for their customers, and this new bill ensures that they still have the option to access that data.

How much this contract might cost remains to be seen, though.

Delaware State Police, for example, typically charge a fee of $25 for an accident report, and Hansen said these agencies would not likely increase those routine fees.

But how much the contract costs with DELJIS likely depends on how much information that contracting party is requesting, she said.

The bill states that pricing models will be based on how much it costs to produce, maintain and distribute the records.

Emily Lytle covers Sussex County from the inland towns to the beaches. Got a story she should tell? Contact her at elytle@doverpost.com or 302-332-0370. Follow her on Twitter at @emily3lytle.