Interior ministry plan: Police should not respond to fender benders

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A traffic accident on Tallinn's Pärnu maantee. Source: Tiina Jaakson/ERR

A Ministry of the Interior draft law would see the police not having to respond to traffic accidents going forward, even if the parties involved cannot reach an agreement. The law would have the vehicle owners to provide insurance for insurers themselves.

If there is noone hurt in a traffic accident, but the vehicles are damaged, the people involved should decide on who is to blame for the incident. If there is no agreement, the police must be called. In 2019, Police and Border Guard (PPA) patrols responded to 15,010 calls for traffic accidents with property damage and misdemeanor proceedings were initiated to identify the culprit on nearly 3,000 occasions.

In a recently published plan, the interior ministry hopes to save on PPA resources. PPA chief law enforcement officer Sirle Loigo said that the police should not be called for minor traffic accidents, even if the parties involved do not agree on who the culprit is.

"It is important to take pictures, collect information and then forwarding that to the insurer. This would mean that people do not have to wait for the police on the scene, they do not have to argue and blame each other, they can begin collecting evidence right away and clear up traffic much faster," Loigo said.

Indrek Sirk, a lawyer specializing in traffic law, said that the police should not have to process each traffic accident, but they are needed to collect evidence.

"What we do need for certain is that evidence can be collected. And no private company can reach the scene in time to gather evidence that are quickly gone. You can conduct interviews later, but photos, schemes and tracks cannot be taken later," Sirk said.

The police would also have no obligation to respond even if people call the emergency number (112). "People will still be adivsed in the future to solve their incident themselves. And insurance will later make a decision based on collected evidence. Or if necessary, additional evidence will be gathered later. But the police will respond to all accidents with victims in the future. And to any accidents where one party leaves the scene," Loigo said.

The police should also respond to accidents where one party does not give out their contacts, is inebriated or if people do not understand each other due to a language barrier.

The ministry is also considering creating a separate telephone number in order to advise people if they have been in a traffic accident. "And another option that has been considered is creating a mobile app that would instruct the person to take pictures and to put down data," Sirle Loigo said.

According to Loigo, the police is often called with the expectation that their decision will later play a part in any possible insurance dispute. Misdemeanor proceedings and insurance proceedings however take place in parallel and are not dependent on one another.

"The decisions the police makes during misdemeanor proceedings, deciding who is guilty, that decision is not binding for insurance. And insurance makes different decisions as well," the officer noted.

Insurance companies could use additional madnates for future proceedings, for example the withdrawal of security tapes in case the culprit has fled the scene. "In case [insurance companies] feel they are missing tools, feedback is expected. And we will decide what tools need to be added to the law," said Veiko Kommusaar, deputy secretary general of the interior ministry.

If the police will no longer investigate the scene, insurance companies have to create their own expert groups, likely to increase insurance prices for vehicle owners.

Mart Jesse, head of the Estonian Traffic Insurance Fund, explained: "If we develop a situation in Estonia, where the police will respond to some cases and some parallel structure visits others, then it will mean creating the parallel structures and doubled expenses."

Current legislation allows the cuplrit of a traffic accident causing property damage to be fined. A majority of minor accidents do not involve fines as the police is never called. The interior ministry is planning on losing the fining option overall.

"In actuality, the state does not wish to punish people for what they have done on accident and that are not a danger to anyone's life or health. It is not necessary and I do not believe it would have an effect on traffic behavior going forward," Kommusaar said.

The ministry is hoping to put the planned law into force in 2023. The ministry has also estimated that the police will respond to 70 percent less traffic accidents with property damage and the number of proceedings of the respective cases will also decrease by 60 percent.

"The PPA has awaited this change for quite a while. It should help save the state close to €830,000 a year," Loigo noted.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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