Charging Motorists For Crashes They Cause

Cash-strapped towns in California are resorting to what opponents dub an "accident tax". At-fault, out-of-town drivers involved in a crash are sent a bill for the public services sent to clean-up the incident. Local motorists are spared.
March 27, 2009, 2pm PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"Strapped for money and facing deeper cuts from city and county governments, some local districts across California are pushing a novel approach to get cash: Send a bill to at-fault drivers for the costs of handling car crashes – but only if those drivers come from outside the area.

At least 10 California towns or fire districts have adopted some version of the fee or are nearing approval, according to Modesto Fire Chief James Miguel, who has reviewed the promotional material from at least one billing company.

Foes call the levy an unfair "accident tax" and the equivalent of a speed trap.

But a number of communities, led by their fire districts, already have approved the fine as a way of recouping funds that otherwise would be lost. They say the fine is a "user fee" that is not intended to expand local budgets but is one way of replenishing funds that already have been spent

The fee, pegged to the cost of providing the services, exists in several other states, including Florida, where legislation has been introduced to eliminate it. Fees range from $500 to $2,000 per accident, by one estimate, and about 80 percent of the fees are near the $500 level.

The tax is not levied on those who live within the local jurisdiction, because those people already pay taxes for police, fire and other protection. Rather, the fee is imposed on those who live outside the area and only those who are deemed at fault in the accident.

Ultimately, is this an unintended consequence of Proposition 13, the tax-cutting measure that cut tax revenues and, by extension, local services."

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Published on Thursday, March 26, 2009 in Capitol Weekly
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