After exiting the freeway, Alexa Bidwell, 18, waits at a red light. As it turns green, she briefly looks down, and her car collides into the vehicle in front of her.
Bidwell is worried and dials 911 but is told police won’t respond because there are no injuries or intoxicated drivers involved in the incident. She’s on her own.
The Metropolitan Police Department began enforcing a new policy in March, in which officers will no longer respond to minor traffic accidents.
Officers instead will focus on traffic enforcement and accidents involving fatalities, serious injuries and drivers under the influence, according to department spokeswoman Laura Meltzer.
“There were more than 13,000 traffic accidents last year, and about 60 percent of them were property damage only,” Meltzer said. “The hour it takes to document minor accidents can be utilized more efficiently.”
For some, the change may cause difficult situations or experiences with motorists who try to take advantage of inexperienced or ignorant drivers.
Alyssa Vivolo, 16, said she would prefer the police to show up if she was in an accident.
“It’s scary for me, being a new driver, because I wouldn’t know what to do in that situation,” Vivolo said. “I would want the police there to help me.”
Jill Strehlow, 36, mother of Rylee, 17, said drivers should have the option of calling the police.
“I don’t think it’s necessary if it’s only a fender-bender,” Strehlow said. “You just exchange information, and it also saves people from being ticketed. But for my child that has only been driving for a little over a year, I can see where she would want or need the help of a professional that could handle the situation better than she knows how to.”
Attorney Steve Stubbs said the department’s strategy regarding minor accidents is “flawed.”
“This new policy is misguided and foolish,” Stubbs said. “A fender-bender accident is the perfect place to write someone a ticket for disobeying traffic laws.”
Stubbs also said the policy change is a direct reaction from the Clark County Commission rejecting the More Cops sales tax initiative; Meltzer denied the claim.
“The department has been re-evaluating policy changes for the past few years, so the changes are not a response to (the tax rejection),” Meltzer said. “We’re just trying to find the best way to police the valley.”
For attorneys, the change may increase the number of clients as drivers turn to legal counsel for help dealing with difficult motorists and insurance companies.
“People are afraid without the help from law enforcement, but if they follow some simple rules, they’ll put themselves in the best situation possible,” said attorney Richard Harris. “People may need a defense attorney who knows the loopholes to work against insurance lawyers. They need a person with a good reputation, plenty of experience and the ability to say, with confidence, that they are experts.”
Meltzer said residents can still call 911 if there is a safety issue or if a motorist refuses to exchange information.
“If someone needs help, we’re not going to turn them down,” Meltzer said. “Proactive traffic enforcement is just proven to reduce fatalities, and that’s what we’re aiming for.”
Police hope this new policy will cause drivers to slow down and pay more attention to avoid accidents from happening.
The department provides a form on its website to help motorists obtain the proper information without needing police.
“Having the form can help drivers focus on what they have to do,” Meltzer said. “My daughter just started driving, so the first thing I did was print it out, review it with her and tell her to keep it in her glove box. I recommend everyone do the same.”
For more information, visit tinyurl.com/lsqlflu.
TRAFFIC ACCIDENT POLICY
The Metropolitan Police Department will respond to traffic accidents if:
— They involve injuries or fatalities.
— A driver is under the influence of alcohol, narcotics or other substances.
— A driver doesn’t have a license, proof of insurance or registration.
— A driver flees the scene, at which point it becomes a hit and run.
— A vehicle is disabled on the roadway as a result of an accident.
— A driver is uncooperative, such as by refusing to exchange information.
For more tips, visit the Metropolitan Police Department’s traffic accident Web page at tinyurl.com/lsqlflu.
Marissa Panchal and Alyssa Miele are journalism students at Foothill High School, 800 College Drive. The original story appeared in the Hillside Hotwire.