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Accident reports can be pricey but police say motorists shouldn't need them

Jeff Himler
| Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Several states in the region have printable forms that can be used to order vehicle accident reports. Pennsylvania is among those that also accept online report requests.
Jeff Himler | Tribune-Review
Several states in the region have printable forms that can be used to order vehicle accident reports. Pennsylvania is among those that also accept online report requests.

Motorists who are involved in an accident investigated by state police can now obtain a report online, but at $22, it will cost more than local departments charge.

However, some local police chiefs say a motorist shouldn't have to incur the expense of obtaining an accident report, arguing that the task should be handled by the company that insures the person's vehicle.

Police Chief John Otto said Penn Township assesses a $15 fee for a copy of an accident report — an amount that most other area departments charge.

Otto is among chiefs who believe it's unnecessary for most motorists to seek a copy of an accident report.

“For a lot of people, it's the first time they've been in a car accident, and their insurance agent says, ‘Go get a copy of the report,' ” he said. “They should let the insurance company do the work.”

Derry police Chief Randy Glick agrees, noting 98 percent of the crash reports the borough issues are sent to insurance companies. He tells motorists who want a copy of a report to have their insurance provider take care of that paperwork.

“The person shouldn't have to do that,” he said. “The average citizen doesn't even need a report.”

Procedures for obtaining accident reports may vary among different insurance companies, noted Ron Gallagher, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Mutual Insurance Companies. In his experience, he said, “Most of the times, the insurance company, or its adjuster or designee, would get that report. A lot of times, the reports are asked for by the claims adjuster because it's part of their fact-gathering.”

The $22 fee state police charge for an accident report is mandated by law and applies whether the request is for a paper copy or an electronic version — an option police made available in September, through the website crashreports.psp.pa.gov.

Pennsylvania legislators also set maximum fees local police can charge for a copy of a crash report — $25 in the case of Philadelphia, the state's only city with a First Class population ranking. For all other local police departments, including Pittsburgh's, $15 is the maximum fee.

The accident reports are available only to those with a vested interest in them — primarily, the involved motorists, their attorneys and insurance carriers.

Money collected through state report fees is directed into Pennsylvania's motor vehicle fund, according to Ryan Tarkowski, communications director for the state police. Many area municipalities indicated their fees are deposited in a general fund, where they may be used to cover expenditures for policing or other needs.

Rostraver's $15 report fee is expected to generate about $4,000 annually, which can be used for general township expenses, according to finance director Jeff Keffer. He noted a little under $3,000 was collected through Aug. 31 of this year.

Not all local departments charge the maximum report fee. Greensburg's $12 fee is placed in the city's general fund and is designated for police operations.

North Huntingdon charges just $5 for a crash report — if it is requested by an involved motorist. The fee increases to $15 if an insurance company wants a copy of the report.

Monroeville also has a two-tiered fee schedule. Police Chief Doug Cole explained his department charges residents of the municipality $5 for a standard five- to seven-page accident report while nonresidents pay the full $15.

Lengthier reports on wrecks that involve more serious damage, injuries or death — and potential litigation — may include extra pages detailing an accident reconstruction and come with a charge of 25 cents per page.

“We mail them out if they request them,” Cole said of the reports. “We get a lot of insurance companies that request them.”

In Latrobe, a standard accident report costs $15 while a more involved incident report, typically requested by an attorney armed with a subpoena, carries a $35 charge, according to city Manager Wayne Jones.

Glick said $15 is not an unreasonable fee for his department to charge for a copy of an accident report. In the nearly two decades he's served Derry, he said, “That price hasn't changed and it hasn't kept up with the times.

“Someone has to sit there and plug the numbers in, and it takes the (officer) off the road while they're doing it. It's time-consuming.”

Otto said Penn Township's similar fee “doesn't begin to address the manpower that goes into an accident report. What it may do is help offset some of the costs of the printer, the toner, the paper and the software programs we use to diagram accidents.”

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6622, jhimler@tribweb.com or via Twitter @jhimler_news.

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