Attention New York City motorists: If you get into an accident and need the FDNY to come to the rescue, expect a bill.
Facing serious budgetary constraints, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration has decided to join a growing number of municipalities around the country that are charging motorists involved in accidents for emergency-response services.
The FDNY plans to start sending out bills July 1.
This so-called "crash tax" or "accident tax" has left bill recipients in other places around the country outraged, and, already, a number of states have banned the practice.
The New York City Fire Department, the largest municipal fire department in the nation, "can no longer afford to provide" emergency services to motorists "at no cost to those who require them," a statement from the FDNY said.
A public hearing on the new charges will be held at FDNY headquarters Jan. 14. While FDNY officials promised to consider the public's input, the policy change doesn't need City Council approval and already has the support of FDNY Commissioner Sal Cassano and the mayor.
So, how much will this cost motorists?
A vehicle fire or any other incident with injuries will cost $490. A vehicle fire without injuries will cost $415. And incidents without fire or injuries will cost $365.
These charges apply to every vehicle involved in the incident.
"We want to relieve pressure on the taxpayer and place it on those at fault and their insurance," said Steve Ritea, a spokesman for the FDNY. "Right now if you're at fault at an accident or a vehicle fire, you get a free ride. And that should not be borne by the taxpayers."
But according to the rules proposed by the FDNY, the department will bill the "motorist to whom motorist services are provided."
Mr. Ritea confirmed that the motorist—whether that person is at fault or not—will receive the bill. The bill from the FDNY will include instructions informing motorists that they can refer the bill to their insurance company, he said.
Mr. Ritea said the FDNY will have discretion over whether it bills motorists.
"If we're talking about an act of God situation, a tree falls on car, then we have discretion, obviously not to bill in those cases," he said. "If the accident is exceedingly minor, we show up on scene and nobody needs medical assistance and there's no fire or anything like that, then, we have discretion."
While some fire departments have started charging people for services delivered to put out house fires, Mr. Ritea said the FDNY isn't currently considering that.
"We have no intention to move this beyond what we're talking about auto accidents at this time," he said.
Last year, the city responded to roughly 14,000 vehicle incidents in the five boroughs. Of those, about 2,900 involved fires and about 7,500 were accidents with injuries.
Officials in New York pointed to other cities that have already started charging motorists. In California, for example, 55 cities have enacted similar policies and another 20 are considering it.
Sam Sorich, president of the Association of California Insurance Companies, called these charges "bad public policy." Many insurance companies don't cover charges from emergency service providers, he said, leaving accident victims responsible for the payment.
"Firefighters and policemen who come to a scene of an accident are seen and should be seen as providing relief and service, not there as a fee-generating opportunity for the city," Mr. Sorich said. "The optics are not good."
New York City officials project this policy will generate $1 million in annual revenue.
New York City motorists reacted Thursday with outrage about the prospect of getting billed next year for accidents.
"That sucks," said Barret Ramnath, 48 years old, a Queens resident who makes his living as a driver. "Accidents happen, and you can't be held responsible. They need the money that badly that they are going to screw us?"
Chris Coppinger, 49, a sales manager who works at a music company and lives on Long Island, also denounced the plan. "It's a bad idea," he said.
"I already pay so much money right now," he said, referring to toll charges and the cost of parking in Manhattan.
"I don't choose to have an accident. It happens," he said.
Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, chairwoman of the council's Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services, said she is concerned about the new charges.
"I don't like the idea of passing a cost onto somebody who is driving a vehicle. However, if it's the insurance industry, I'm open," she said. "But really, at the end of the day, it will probably be passed onto the person purchasing the insurance."
Ellen Melchionni, president of the New York Insurance Association, said she views these charges as "double billing."
"If the police show up at your house for a domestic violence dispute or a break-in, are they going to send you a bill? Those are services that are typically covered when you pay your taxes," she said.
Ms. Melchionni said most auto insurance policies in New York don't cover these types of charges. And if the insurance companies are required to cover the charges, she predicted that premiums would increase.
Justin McNaull, a spokesman for AAA, called these charges "short-sighted."
"We have concerns that some motorists might be less likely to call police to crash scenes, allowing drunk drivers, uninsured drivers, drivers with suspended licenses, and others to go undetected," he said.
Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith said New York City is simply following the path blazed by other cities that bill motorists and their insurance companies.
"Now New York City will, too," he said. "We are going to search for other ways to shift costs away from overburdened taxpayers and towards accountable parties."
Wall Street Journal