Patrol ready to charge for accident reports

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

A new Missouri State Highway Patrol policy to charge $10 for copies of accident reports has raised a few red flags for those who have been paying attention.

The policy, which takes effect Sept. 1, is intended to help ease the state's budget troubles and is largely aimed at insurance companies that want copies of nearly every report.

No one is saying the patrol shouldn't charge for these reports. Most law-enforcement agencies have a nominal charge to make copies of accident reports.

But the $10 fee for each report seems high. The patrol says each copy of an accident report costs the patrol $9.39, when factoring in expenses for maintaining a computer database, staff and office supplies.

How can that be? Patrol officers have to fill out and maintain accident reports anyway, regardless of whether or not anyone wants a copy. How can it cost $10 to call up a computer file and hit the print button to make a copy?

And wouldn't there also be some cost savings if insurance companies received requested accident reports by e-mail?

Perhaps the most important issue, however, is the claim that some insurance companies intend to pass along the $10 report fee through increased premiums for auto insurance.

If you look at the numbers, that claim is a hard to justify. There are roughly 3.8 million auto liability holders in Missouri. The patrol says it sends out about 58,000 accident reports a year. If the insurance companies pass on those costs to those holders, it would only add up to about 15 cents for each policy holder.

It would be unfortunate if the patrol's new policy results in unreasonably high charges and unjustified insurance rates.

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