As any good policy wonk knows, certain activities effectively force people who only bear the costs of that activity to subsidize the beneficiaries. To use the classic contemporary example, fossil fuel polluters receive billions in tax breaks, but pay nothing for the climate change-inducing carbon that they emit.
The same problem applies to private motoring, the costs of which are, in many cases, spread across non-drivers or society at large. The curb lane in front of my home provides free storage for my car-owning neighbors’ vehicles. A portion of my taxes go to maintaining highways I rarely use, caring for uninsured crash victims and asthma patients in city hospitals, bailing out the auto industry because it’s too big to fail, and fighting wars to keep oil cheap.
One aspect of private motoring that benefits motorists while imposing costs on others is crash investigations. Anyone involved in a motor vehicle crash (and remaining conscious afterwards) knows that two NYPD officers are sent to the scene and spend usually about half an hour or more recording information including weather conditions and the contours of the road. (The officers may also spend some time trying to convince you not to make a report.) Many of these crashes involve property damage only.
While the barely relevant details of fender-benders are meticulously documented, members of the NYPD Collision Investigation Squad are supposedly doing in-depth investigations of all crashes involving “critical” injuries.
Why is the public at large paying teams of police officers to gather loss adjustment information for insurance companies in property damage disputes, while acts of serious traffic violence go uninvestigated?
The answer lies with the insurance industry. From an industry-wide perspective, insurers’ interest is not focused on determining fault for a crash. Since any given insurer can just as easily find itself on the defending end as the prosecuting end of a crash-related claim, the captains of the insurance industry don’t really care how fault is allocated in any given crash (however much the individual insurance adjusters assigned to particular crashes may care).