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FDNY on Collision Course With Insurers Over "Crash Tax"

Friday, January 14, 2011

Fire officials continued to defend the so-called "crash tax" proposal that would charge at-fault drivers up to $490 when emergency crews had to respond to traffic accidents as insurers fumed over the fee.

After a public hearing in Brooklyn Friday, FDNY legal counsel Julian Basil said the costs should be covered by the drivers at fault and not by taxpayers in general.

"We're looking to spread the costs of these things," Basil said, "and when there are insurance companies that cover these things — if in fact they do — that would be one way to accomplish that goal."

But most insurers don't cover such emergency response fees, according to Christina Baldwin of the Property Casualty Insurers' Association of America, which opposes the measure. She said even when insurers do pay, they pass on the expense to policy holders.

"New York City drivers are already currently paying among the highest auto insurance premiums in the nation, and this will just exacerbate that situation," Baldwin said.

Among supporters of the fee are the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. Deputy director Noah Budnick said the measure would make drivers more careful on city streets.

"If saving life and limb isn't enough to convince people to drive safely, knowing that you're going to be hit with a $500 fee if you get in a crash, that's going to be a good motivation for people," he says.

The city said it could raise $1 million annually and keep firehouses open. The FDNY said it will consider today's testimony before it decides whether to move ahead with the plan, slated to start this July.

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