Roanoke City and Roanoke County are now part of a new collision reporting initiative. Roanoke City and County have contracted with a private company, Roanoke Accident Support Services a subsidiary of Accident Support Services International from Canada to handle a large portion of accident reporting in Roanoke City and County through its Collision Reporting Center (CRC) located at 631 Abney Road in Roanoke. Our area is the first in the US to take this unique approach. The model has been in operation in Canada for quite some time now.
With these changes, it is important that you take every precaution to protect your rights and your driving record should you be involved in an auto accident. You also need to understand that you are REQUIRED to report as requested by law. This is not optional.
The Old System
Under the old system, in a typical fender bender where nobody was injured, the drivers involved would pull over, call 911, and wait for an officer to come to investigate. Hopefully, the officer can investigate and provide information that would assist in determining which driver is at fault and, if necessary, ticket that driver and note it in the accident report. At that point, the drivers would call their respective insurance companies, who would obtain accident reports and statements from the drivers in an effort to settle the claim. It is important to note that insurance carriers perform their own investigations to determine whether they are responsible for damages on their insured’s behalf. The more information they can gather, the better they can do their job.
According to local law enforcement, this process is inconvenient for citizens and police officers. According to a recent Roanoke Times story, the reporting process takes an average of 45 minutes of an officer’s time and about half of the accidents they respond to are minor. So, it makes sense that they would want to do what they can to save the time of their officers for other, perhaps more urgent, matters.
A larger goal of the CRC, according to a spokesperson, is to prevent accidents. The logic is that by not spending time on filing reports, Roanoke officers will have more time to do traffic enforcement, thus preventing accidents.
The New System
Under the new system, motorists will still call 911 and wait for an officer to assess the accident. However, if the officer determines that it meets the criteria for reporting to the new CRC, they will refer the drivers to the CRC with a pamphlet about the new process. Once the system is well established with the citizenry, the hope is that an officer will no longer need to respond at all and drivers will simply report directly to the CRC.
According to reports, drivers won’t be referred to CRC if injuries, hazardous materials, or criminal activity are involved. A police officer would still handle those accidents. Further, accidents involving private property damage and accidents where traffic charges are placed against drivers will also not be referred to CRC. All other accidents will be eligible to be handled by CRC.
Protect Yourself From Potential Issues
My biggest concern, and the issue that you need to be most aware of, is that CRC will only handle accidents where there are no traffic charges placed. Let me explain the potential issue here as I see it.
This provision could encourage officers to write fewer tickets for minor accidents. On the surface, I’m OK with that. After all, I have no desire to see people have to pay for a ticket on top of any other accident related expenses. In general, I like the idea of giving at fault drivers a break on that part of the situation. It also frees up the officer’s time to handle more pressing issues in the community.
As previously stated, insurance companies will perform their own investigations to determine who is at fault, as they see it. While they will not rely solely on which party a police officer has ticketed in order to determine fault, having a police officer gather facts immediately following an accident can be helpful. Sometimes, insurance company investigations will contradict the at fault determination of the officer. However, it is my experience that in general the driver who is ticketed and deemed at fault by the officer is also determined to be at fault by the insurance companies involved.
Less Direct Involvement From Police
When there is no ticket involved, an officer will no longer necessarily be involved in an investigation of the accident, which means insurance companies will not have the benefit of their fact finding to settle the claim properly. Also, given that the drivers have 48 hours to report to CRC, I imagine there will be many instances where someone may seem very contrite and willing to accept responsibility at the scene of the accident, but given a day or 2 to think about it they may change their tune and want to save their own hide.
After all, an at fault accident can be very expensive. Besides paying for their own damage or deductibles, an at fault accident may lead to an accident surcharge of 20, 30, 40 % or more on their monthly insurance bill. If the driver has multiple tickets and accidents, they may even find that their policy could be cancelled. So, in their own self-interest, they bend the truth.
Police officers have the wonderful effect of cutting through all of this, looking at the facts, and impartially providing the facts of the accident. It is a tremendous service, one that I think many take for granted and while I know they have more important issues to deal with, the loss of this service will likely have a major impact on how claims are processed.
The benefit to our local police departments is that their officers can spend less time filling out paperwork and more time protecting its citizens. That is certainly a noble idea and one that most residents would appreciate.
How The System Is Funded
Another component of this new system is that it is currently provided free of charge to the local governments. The model depends on insurance companies to fund it. The idea is that insurance companies will pay the CRC for their reports and the money derived from those fees will pay for the center.
The problem is that, so far, insurers have not exactly jumped on the bandwagon. Insurers can currently obtain police reports for $10 or less directly from the police departments, where a CRC report would cost more than 5 times that amount.
Also, in the case of a simple accident involving 2 drivers where 1 is at fault and the other is not, it would be a poor use of the insurance companies’ funds to buy expensive reports if, in fact, their insured is not at fault. However, they may need to do just that in some instances.
Insurance companies need to make a profit to survive and be able to meet their claims payment responsibilities. So, increasing the cost of accident reports by more than 5 times what they currently pay is not going to be particularly attractive to them. Also, paying more to settle claims means that they would likely need to pass that cost along to their policyholders in the form of rate increases. Nobody wants that. That is one major stumbling block to getting insurers on board in order to fund the center going forward.
CRC representatives counter that by saying that in spite of the increase cost of the report, obtaining the information from the CRC will actually save money for insurance companies in the long run by cutting down on the time that it takes to gather information and process claims. It is their experience that 80% of accidents are reported the same day of as the accident, which would allow the claims department to get claims processed faster. They have offered a “free trial” for the first few months to insurers to introduce them to the process in order to convince them.
While the CRC is providing good information in a timely manner, the insurance companies’ adjusters still have to make contact with their policyholders and any other people involved. CRC reporting does not really help with this part of the claims process, which is the most time consuming part.
How You Can Protect Yourself
So, what should you do differently if you are involved in an accident that is not your fault and is referred to CRC in Roanoke? Be SUPER aware that you will likely have to prove your innocence with little help from a responding police officer. Document EVERYTHING. Take pictures. Get witnesses. Do everything that you can do to prove that you are not at fault even if the other driver admits fault at the scene.
Keep in mind, the CRC is a neutral party in the process. They do not determine fault on behalf of the police, insurance companies, or anyone else. They simply collect the information and let the insurance companies sort it out from there. To get the best outcome from them, be sure to:
- Get pictures, witnesses, and exchange information at the scene of the accident.
- Bring your license, registration, and proof of insurance when reporting to CRC.
- Bring the actual vehicle that was involved in the accident to the CRC. They will document the damage which may help the insurance companies determine fault.
CRC representatives also told me that they would report on accidents that occur on private property, such as mall parking lots. We are told by Roanoke City that under the old system, they did not respond to those situations unless someone was injured. This may prove to be a plus under the system.
Ultimately, time will tell if the system is going to work in the long term for Roanoke. If it does, they hope to expand to other areas. For now, it is definitely the system that we have to be prepared to work within. So, if you have any other questions, please contact me directly. If I do not have the answer, I will do my best to get it.
Special Thanks to Ken Eagelson of the CRC, Jim Weaver of Erie Insurance, and the Roanoke City Police Department for their help.