Starting this week in Roanoke and Roanoke County, if two drivers get into a fender-bender, they’ll sort out the problem somewhere other than along the side of the road.

The country’s first collision reporting center opens Thursday at 631 Abney Road, near Lamplighter Mall in north Roanoke County. Law enforcement agencies imported the model from Canada in the hope of creating a more efficient experience for both motorists and officers in reporting minor collisions and filing claims with insurance companies.

“The idea here is to create a convenience for people,” said Roanoke County police Chief Howard Hall.

While it will be a shift from how drivers currently handle crashes, police departments said people should find the new method to be an easy one once they become familiar with the concept.

Take, for example, a simple collision under the current system: A driver fails to yield, scraping another car’s side door while also incurring damage to a fender. The two uninjured drivers pull over, call 911 and wait 15 minutes for an officer to arrive. The officer writes up a crash report for both drivers detailing what happened. The driver who failed to yield gets a summons. Then both drivers get in touch with their insurance agents to begin the process of repairing their cars.

Police departments say the reporting process takes up an average of 45 minutes of an officer’s time. About half of the crashes they respond to are minor ones.

“We want to get cars and people out of the roadway and handle reporting faster in a separate, safer place,” Hall said.

Under the new collision reporting center model, drivers will still call 911 and wait for an officer, who will assess what happened, collect driver information and determine whether the incident meets the criteria for the crash reporting center. If it does, the officer will send the drivers on their way with a pamphlet about the center.

Crashes that end up at the center are those with property damage of any amount as long as the vehicles are driveable. Drivers must have valid licenses, registration and insurance. Drivers won’t be referred if traffic charges are placed against them. Officers will still handle crashes involving injuries, fatalities, damage to private property, hazardous materials or criminal activity such as driving under the influence or driving a stolen vehicle.

Drivers have 48 hours to get to the center.

“That’s so if you need to go pick your kids up or have to get to a doctor’s appointment, you can still take care of your reporting at your convenience,” Hall said.

What if someone gets into a collision during a snowstorm? The officer will write the reports and won’t make the drivers travel to the crash center.

What if the driver is about to go on vacation?

“If someone has a flight in four hours and is headed on a two-week cruise, obviously they can’t make that 48-hour window,” Roanoke police Lt. Jeffrey Newman said.

Crashes comes with a lot of what-ifs, and Roanoke officers peppered Newman with them while he explained last week how the center will work.

“A lot of it has to do with you using your common sense,” he told them.

In Canada, the model has been around for more than 20 years, and people have learned how to self-report to collision centers, but officers will continue to go to crashes in the Roanoke Valley for the foreseeable future.

Once at the crash center, employees will write up crash reports, which they’ll send to the police departments to approve. The center also will save crash data to send to police for analysis.

The crash center will document the damage and get in touch with insurance companies, speeding up the claims process and aiding in preventing possible insurance fraud.

The center is run by Roanoke Accident Support Services. Its parent company is Accident Support Services International, the Canadian company in charge of support centers in 52 police jurisdictions within two provinces. Insurance companies fund the crash center, which will operate at no cost to Roanoke Valley governments.

In Canada, the compliance rate of drivers reporting to the centers is upward of 95 percent. But Hall said that if a driver does not show up, officers will be able to track them down.

The benefits are wide-ranging, police officials said. Officers will spend less time filling out reports. Drivers will be able to speed up the insurance process.

Newman said the new model also should shrink the traffic docket in court of unnecessary summonses — charges that usually just get dropped, he said. Insurance companies do not need traffic tickets to determine who is at fault in a collision.

While Roanoke police policy has been to write a summons to the driver believed to have caused a crash, the collision center gives officers more discretion. Under the collision center model, the driver who failed to yield and swiped someone’s door might not get a summons.

The 18-month pilot program is contained now to Roanoke and Roanoke County. Salem joined the regional agreement but plans to begin participating down the road. City spokesman Mike Stevens said police are not sure when that may be, as the city is in the process of developing a compatible computer interface.

During the pilot period, the company will collect feedback from residents and police. If it’s successful, the local governments can expand the program, and the company can pitch the model to other areas of the country.

Steve Sanderson, president of Accident Support Services International, has said Canadians have given the centers “rave reviews.”

It’ll be a culture change for officers and drivers, but Newman said he thinks it’ll be a valuable resource.

“Drivers are saving time, and we’re trying to save time so we can better spend it on preventing crime and catching serious offenders,” Newman said.

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