The FDNY wants to start charging motorists involved in accidents that require a response from emergency services, but Councilman Leroy Comrie and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley call the plan poor public policy.
“The first area that we must focus on is how this policy would affect law, order, and safety of New York City, Comrie said in a public hearing held by the Fire Department on January 14. "I am gravely concerned that enacting a policy where we charge individuals hundreds of dollars for getting into accidents would lead to an increase in hit and runs.
“Individuals who are in dire financial situations would be more likely to flee the scene of an accident," he continued. "Adding a financial burden to someone who is already in financial straits only furthers the potential for them to wrongfully drive away after a serious accident.”
The department proposed a charge of $490 for a crash or car fire with an injury, $415 for a car fire without injuries, and $365 for an accident in which no one is hurt.
“I firmly believe that these charges are highly unfitting and require a strict examination from the FDNY, legislators, and our constituents,” Comrie said.
The charges would only add to the numerous costs involved with an auto accident, and Cormie noted that low-income families would suffer the most.
He also listed some unintended consequences that could occur because of the measure.
“In many cases it is easily telling who is at fault in an accident," he said. "However, in those cases where it is not as clear which motorist is at fault, months of litigation will ensue only driving up the costs for the motorists involved in the accident.”
If an individual cannot pay hundreds of dollars in fees, the government is then forced in a position to place a lien on the motorist’s property.
“At a time when our minority communities are facing the greatest housing crisis in decades, placing liens as a result of an accident only pushes them into greater financial hardships,” he said.
Crowley, chair of the Fire and Criminal Justice Services Committee, called the measure an act of double-dipping.
“One of government’s most important responsibilities is to keep people safe—that is why we allocate taxpayer money to our emergency services," she said. "To raise revenue by charging New Yorkers deemed to be at fault in auto accidents is unreasonable and misguided.”
FDNY Commissioner Sal Cassano labels the charge a "fee for service," but Crowley wasn’t buying it. “Let’s call this 'fee' for what it really is: a double tax,” she countered.
Both council members pondered the effects of such a measure, claiming it could be a step to charge for other services.
“Will there be fees for putting out house fires?” asked Crowley. And Comrie said that he never wants New Yorkers to be put in a position where the NYPD begins exploring a charge for responding to emergency calls as well.
“Placing exorbitant fees on taxpayers for what has been and should continue to be a basic government service is a form of double taxation that New Yorkers should not have to face,” he said.