Involved in a car crash within Atlanta city limits? Unless you’re injured, you can no longer count on Atlanta police to respond.
“This puts the onus squarely on the driver,” said Bruce Hagen, an Atlanta attorney specializing in automobile accidents for the last 35 years.
The policy change came with little fanfare. A notice was posted here Thursday. The Atlanta 311 site is a customer-based information portal for city services with 1,866 Facebook followers.
The change was made, the Atlanta Police Department said, “To protect the health and safety of our staff and customers, and to help mitigate the the impact of COVID-19.” Drivers involved in non-injury accidents are instructed to complete a SR-13 form, used in the past for accidents on private property.
“How many people know what that is, or where to access it?” Hagen said. It’s available here on the Atlanta 311 website; type “accident” in the search field and click on “APD - Non-Injury Automobile Accidents In The City Of Atlanta”.
“It seems to me you would’ve wanted to have a public education program in place before the change,” Hagen said. “I’m not sure a Facebook post is enough.”
An Atlanta Police Department spokeswoman said the policy is temporary. Other cities, like Louisville, have made similar changes due to COVID-19, she said. In large municipalities like Los Angeles and New York City, officers haven’t responded to non-injury accidents for years, choosing to allocate more resources to crime prevention.
Officers in Atlanta will still respond to any hit and run accidents or any other violations of the law, the APD spokeswoman said.
Citizens here who saw the post on Facebook found the new policy rife with potential problems.
“I’m guessing there will be a lot more people fleeing the scene of vehicle accidents now cause ‘honor system’ LOL,” wrote one commenter. “Good luck everyone.”
“So how will liability be determined?” asked another.
There are no easy answers.
Atlanta police say if a driver insists on having an officer at the scene they may call 911 and request one. An officer will respond with an SR-13 form but there is no indication they will stay to determine fault, which most insurers require when the other driver is uninsured, or “under-insured,” Hagen said.
“They do it to root out fraud,” he said. Officers act as honest brokers; it’s human nature for a driver to minimize his or her role in an accident.
There’s also a public safety component. When officers arrive on the scene they separate the parties involved, in part to limit confrontation, Hagen says. Now drivers will have to interact in order to get relevant insurance and license information.
And that creates another potential problem. With the foundation of Georgia’s electronic insurance database a few years ago, drivers are no longer required to carry proof of insurance cards in their vehicles. But while law enforcement has access to the database, citizens do not.
“It presents a lot more opportunities for people to lie,” Hagen said. “You have no idea whether you’re going to get the right information.”
He suggests drivers to obtain as much information as they can, relying on their cell phone cameras and, dash cams, if they have one. Take pictures of the other driver’s license and tag. And if there’s witnesses, record their statements.
“Be your own investigator,” said Hagen, noting that insurance companies aren’t inclined to simply trust your word about what happened.