WOAI featured a unique, data-driven story last week about the high number of accidents caused by inattentive drivers talking on their cell phones. Journalists at the television station analyzed an accident database kept by the Texas Department of Transportation that tracks contributing factors for all vehicle crashes in Texas.
To get the story, WOAI had to fight a lengthy open-records battle with TxDOT. During their legal dispute, TxDOT took the unusual step of asking a state senator to write a bill that, in its original form, would have kept the entire database private.
The dispute between WOAI and TxDOT is a telling example of how difficult it can be to get important information out to the public. In some cases, it’s a long, expensive slog — it took nearly two years for WOAI to get its hands on the data.