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City may charge motorists for accident rescue

Your crash could cost you cash under a proposed New York City Fire Department plan to charge motorists for rescuing them from traffic accident scenes.

Citing "these difficult economic times," city officials say they want to join the ranks of other municipalities from New Jersey to California that make motorists reimburse the government after an accident.

"This is an attempt to take pressure off of taxpayers," said Fire Department spokesman Steve Ritea. "Right now, you get a free ride" after an accident, he said.

The department, beginning July 1, will charge motorists a $490 fee for a vehicle fire or "other vehicle incident" with injuries; $415 for a vehicle fire without injuries; and $365 for other "vehicle incidents" without injuries, according to the Fire Department's official proposal.

"In these difficult economic times, the Fire Department can no longer afford to provide such services at no cost to those who require them," the department said in the proposal.

The city came up with the dollar amounts using "standard ... user-cost analysis" accounting for personnel, equipment and labor costs, according to the proposal.

The fees would be levied to each motorist in a crash, regardless of fault.

Ritea said motorists could submit the bills for their insurance and that the department has discretion to waive the fees for acts of God, such as a tree falling on a car.

"The Fire Department will not deny motorist services based on the status of the billing or payment for such services," the proposal said.

The department will hold a public hearing into the idea on Jan. 14, at 10:30 a.m., at its headquarters auditorium: 9 Metrotech Center, Brooklyn.

Michael Barry, a spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute, an industry-funded group based in New York, dismissed the Fire Department's planned fees as "an accident tax."

Were the proposed fees to take effect, Barry said Friday afternoon, "the consumer is going to pay in one or two ways": drivers will pay for the fees out of pocket or insurance companies will raise the annual rates policyholders people pay to be insured.

"There could be rate hike implications, depending how this unfolds," Barry said.

AAA New York issued a news release asking motorists to lobby lawmakers against the plan.

The group called the city's plan a "terrible idea and would add another unfair cash grab to already overburdened motorists."

Spokesmen for each of Long Island's county executives, Ed Mangano in Nassau and Steve Levy in Suffolk, said Friday they had no plans to charge such fees for crashes on the Island.

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