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'Crash taxes' are growing in popularity among cash-strapped California cities

December 31, 2010 |  1:27 pm

Crash tax

At least 50 cities in the state have adopted so-called crash-tax laws allowing local governments to seek reimbursement from insurance companies for the costs of sending public emergency crews to accident scenes.

The fees can amount to hundreds or even thousands of dollars. If insurers don't pay, cities can hire collection agents to seek payment from the motorists involved.

Billing crash victims might seem heartless. But public officials said that budget woes are compelling them to find new ways to raise revenue. Over the last six years, Costa Mesa, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Santa Ana, Hemet and other cities have started charging fees for accident-related public services. Sacramento, with nearly half a million residents, soon could be the largest city in California to do so.

-- Marc Lifsher
Photo: Emergency workers tend to crash victims. Public officials say budget woes compel them to bill drivers for the cost of sending police and firefighters to accidents. But critics are incensed that cities are charging extra for what once were considered core services. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times