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Reporting Centers can help save time, money

Reprinted from the Toronto Star, April 16, 2016, Perry Lefko Special to the Star

Police throughout Ontario are using them to make better use of stretched manpower.

There was a time when an accident involving two or more parties in Toronto resulted in the police automatically arriving at the scene to assess the damage and take information.  But all that has changed.  Toronto police issued a media release, effective March 29, indicating the system used for sending manpower to an accident scene had become unsustainable.

Now, police will direct people involved in minor collisions, the so-called fender-benders in which there are no serious injuries that require immediate transportation to hospital, to report the matter to the nearest Collision Reporting Center. 

Many are not aware of the centers, which have been around for more than 20 years.

The idea came about in the 1990s when the traffic committee of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police realized it had become unfeasible to send officers to every motor vehicle collision because it took time away from more pressing needs.

Moreover, motorists were waiting for hours while police were dispatched, causing delays in traffic and in some cases, secondary collisions.

In 1992, the Province informed police it no longer had to physically investigate minor property damage collisions if there were no injuries.  But that raised concerns in the insurance industry because of the potential for fraudulent claims with no proof by police of an actual collision.

Enter Steve Sanderson, who had a towing and repair company with a contract to the Toronto Police Service in the City of North York and also had business with major insurance companies.  He founded Accident Support Services International and became involved in facilitating a solution for all stakeholders.

He was entrusted to operate the first reporting center as a pilot project in North York in 1994.  It worked so well that after the first six months, two more centers were added, one in Scarborough and the other in Etobicoke (no longer in operation), and Sanderson's new company was awarded contracts to operate them after a tendering process.

In the first year, the Toronto police calculated a savings of roughly $5 million in re-allocated labour for higher priority calls as opposed to tending to minor collisions.  The practical need and benefit of reporting centers led to their expansion throughout Ontario.

Today, there are 29 centers in 23 police jurisdictions in Ontario, along with an additional 28 police jurisdictions using ASSI's software.

All reporting centers are operated in partnership with police and insurers.  ASSI services and software are provided free to police; their services are paid for by participating insurance companies.  All reporting centres have direct phone lines to the various insurance companies.

Some of the centers are stand-alone buildings with ASSI staff and police personnel, others are inside a police station. ASSI employees are trained to record all the information for accident reports and police personnel sign off on the consistency and accuracy of the information. 

Reporting centers in Ontario are located as far south as Niagara Falls, east to Cornwall, west to Chatham-Kent and north to Thunder Bay.  If the accident happens in an area beyond the nearest center, the OPP or municipal police will either go to the accident scene or ask the motorists to report to the nearest police station within 24 to 48 hours. 

"Rather than the Police coming to you, you're going to the police, in effect," said Pete Karageorgos of the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

"It's within the jurisdiction of where the crash occurred.  That police force has jurisdiction.  That's why you've got to go to the local force where the crash occurred.  If there is one (other) car, two cars or three cars or more, everyone's responsible to contact the police and file a report.

"The key thing is, you want to report it because you may think it's a minor crash - say it's dark and you may not see the full effect of the damage - but it goes to a body shop and they will determine there is a lot more wrong with it than you initially thought.  Both parties are responsible for reporting it, regardless of who is at fault." 

Sanderson said most people can't tell how much damage there is to the car in an accident.  "In most jurisdictions that we're in, the police let (our company) do it because we're trained for that type of thing.  We can look at a car and come pretty close to the amount of damage that is done.  The rule of thumb for each panel is $750 and it depends on the manufacture and the year."

The vehicles are photographed to document the collision details and a sticker with the words "Damage Reported to Police" is applied to the damaged area.  It lets auto body shops know there is documentation of the damage and to prevent fraud.

Sanderson said half of people involved in an accident report it within the first four hours and the rest come within the 24-hour period.  "There's a very, very small percentage that do not show up and need to be brought in with a phone call (because the other party has filed a report). 

"Everybody seems to be concerned about whether the other party is injured or there is going to be some repercussions from somebody being injured if they don't report their collision.  I find with our experience over the years that people just want to do what they think is the right thing, and the right thing is reporting the damage to the police.  They get some comfort out of that."

Freelance writer Perry Lefko contributes to Toronto Star Wheels.