States act on ‘crash tax’

| 5/12/2011

Legislatures around the country continue to act on efforts to provide protections from fees applied for police and fire personnel responding to vehicle accidents.

According to Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, 12 states have acted – two this year alone – to prohibit or restrict municipalities from charging accident-response fees. Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Utah have forbidden the fees.

The Utah law takes effect this month. It will restrict fees that municipalities can charge after accidents.

Local agencies are allowed to continue to charge “at-fault” drivers for towing, debris clean up, or to repair damaged roads. Fees for ambulance services are also not prohibited. However, charging a “flat fee” for showing up at an accident will be forbidden.

As of late July, a new Arizona law offers some protection from “crash tax” fees. According to the state, there are no Arizona communities that currently charge for crash-response services.

To make sure that does not change, the law prohibits cities and counties from pursuing fees in the future. However, crash taxes could be applied for property damage, ambulance services, or in rural areas without their own fire or police department.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the protection is needed to make sure citizens don’t get a “double charge.” He pointed out that residents and non-residents already pay for the services through sales and property taxes.

Kansas appears poised to join the growing list of states to prohibit the collection of crash taxes. Awaiting the governor’s signature is a bill – HB2119 – to provide protections for anyone involved in a wreck in communities throughout the state.

Incidents involving the cleanup of hazmat and the need for ambulance services would not be prohibited from incurred costs.

More than 50 cities throughout California have crash taxes in place that range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the incident.

Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark, said it is unfair to charge people who live in surrounding communities but travel downtown five days a week for work.

“Californians, regardless of the city in which they live, work, or visit, should be awarded certain public safety protections,” Strickland said in a recent statement.

The Senate Public Safety Committee could take up his bill – SB49 – to prohibit local governments in the future from charging a fee or tax to any person, regardless of whether or not they live in the community, for the cost related to emergency responders.

Communities with crash taxes in place would not be affected by the rule.

Also in New York is a bill that would require legislative approval of any first-responder fee.

Currently, there is no state law that prohibits imposing additional fees and taxes on motorists involved in wrecks for emergency response services. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg this spring dropped his pursuit of charging fees to drivers needing medical assistance following wrecks.

“We must not attempt to balance the budget on the backs of middle class New Yorkers who have the misfortune to be involved in a vehicular accident,” Sen. Eric Adams, D-Brooklyn, stated.

The bill – S2277 – is in the Senate Transportation Committee.

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