When Driving In Other Towns, Beware Of The ‘Crash Tax’

Tuesday, January 23, 2018 || By Local News Curator || @maywoodnews 

In 2009, according to a New York Times article, a man was “knocked off his motor scooter by the car behind him” while riding in Chicago Heights.

“Five months later he got another surprise: a bill from the fire department for responding to the scene of the accident.”

In March 2011, a resident of St. Clair Shores, Mich. “was stunned to receive a bill from a collection agency for $327.35 his insurance company refused to pay to Eastpointe Police for investigating a fender-bender he reported in December.”

“How can they charge that much money for a cop to walk out to the parking lot and look at my car?” the man reportedly asked.

In 2014, a Round Lake resident called 911 after he was involved in a three-car accident in Grayslake, according to a 2017 report from NBC 5 Responds. He wasn’t hurt, but he was concerned about the passengers in another car.

Still, the man — who gave the police a statement, but declined medical care at the scene — said that he was billed for $1,240 some months later from the Grayslake Fire Protection District.

“I didn’t think it was fair that I was being charged for services I didn’t use,” he told NBC 5 Reports.

Municipalities already charge for ambulance care, which is typically covered by health insurance.

Fees that are charged to non-residents involved in car accidents simply because police and fire departments responded to the scene are different and they’ve become increasingly prevalent across the country over the last two decades.

“The charge is variously called a ‘crash tax’ or ‘resource recovery,’ depending on one’s point of view,” the New York Times explained. “In either case, motorists are billed for services they may have thought were covered by taxpayers.

“Sometimes the victim’s insurer pays. But if it declines, motorists may face threats from a collection agency if they don’t pay.”

The so-called crash tax is outlawed in some states, but not in others. In Illinois, it is legal to charge non-residents fees for police and fire response to auto accidents.

Critics of the fees say that they “amount to double taxation,” the New York Times reports. Supporters say that traffic crash response by policemen and firemen goes beyond the primary function of those professionals and should not be financed by the taxpayers who live in the places where the crashes happen.

According to an NBC 5 Responds investigative report that aired late last year, the Broadview and Maywood fire departments are among dozens in the Chicago area that “charge fees to non-residents when responding to vehicle accidents and car fires in their jurisdictions.”

NBC 5 response fee map.png

Chicago area fire departments that gave NBC 5 Responds information on their fees for emergency response. | NBC 5 Responds/Screenshot 

“Forty-four departments responded with information on their fees,” NBC reported. “While these charges can differ between municipalities, non-residents could be billed $250 per vehicle per hour and $70 per firefighter per hour. Some departments may also charge a flat fee for extrication services or responding to a vehicle fire.”

In Broadview, fees for emergency responses to car accidents are $250 per hour per vehicle and $35 per hour per personnel. In Maywood, fees range from $435 to $2,200, depending on level of service, NBC 5 Responds reported.

Officials with the Broadview and Maywood fire departments could not be reached for comment on Tuesday afternoon.

Bill Schultz, a fire chief in Wheaton and the president of the DuPage County Fire Chiefs Association told NBC 5 Responds that many police and fire departments charge non-residents fees.

“The residents are paying tax dollars. A non-resident is not,” Schultz said. “With any tier type of charges, it’s about trying to equalize as best as possible. It’s never going to be one hundred percent.”

NBC 5 Responds explained that some municipalities have mechanisms that allow non-residents to appeal the fees, resulting in them being reduced or waived. VFP 

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