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Commentary: Response Bills Kick You When You're Down

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, July 9, 2010
Here’s the latest horrible idea to raise some cash and avoid making hard budget decisions. If you’re in a car crash in a growing number of places in California, you or your insurance company could get a bill from the local fire department. The going rate is $400 if a fire truck is called to the scene; $65 if traffic cones and flares are put out; and $30 to clean up debris.
Last week, Placer County joined Roseville, Woodland and several smaller districts in the Sacramento region in charging the fees. The city of Sacramento is planning to jump on this bandwagon in the fall. As I said, this is a really bad idea. 
It’s entirely different from cases like hikers or climbers who go off into the wilderness, ignore warnings about bad weather, and then have to be pulled out by helicopter. There’s no benefit to general public safety from those rescues, so those thrill seekers should be billed. But crashes on public roads are another matter. A driver might be at fault for insurance purposes, but not really that reckless. And cleaning up the scene is needed to keep traffic flowing and to keep other motorists safe. Besides, these new fees could raise auto insurance rates for everyone.  
Accidents do happen. Charging drivers for cleaning them up really is adding insult to injury.
Foon Rhee writes for The Sacramento Bee opinion pages.
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