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1HomePageMap small ne 0816Local news stories affecting the auto body industry in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut, Maryland, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine

Texting while driving laws in New York may get an upgrade in the coming weeks. Senate Republicans have stated they will push legislation that would allow police to stop and ticket motorists solely for texting while driving.

Using a portable electronic device while at the wheel of a moving vehicle in New York is currently a secondary offense, which means that a person can’t be pulled over for using the device alone. Instead, it must be tacked on to another primary offense.

Legislation sponsored by a dozen Republicans, who currently have majority control of that chamber, would upgrade it to a primary offense.

A group of Senate Democrats have also introduced a similar bill. A companion measure is pending in the Assembly.

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The Pennsylvania House Transportation Committee gave its approval on May 3 to House Bill 9, which would impose stricter driving and licensing restrictions for 16- and 17-year-old drivers.

The state currently requires drivers under the age of 18 who are testing for a junior driver's license to have 50 hours of supervised "practical driving experience." The bill would bump up that amount to 65, with at least 10 of those hours being at night and with at least five being in "inclement weather."

The bill would also put passenger restrictions on licensed young motorists. If the bill is ultimately signed into law, these drivers would not be able to have more than one passenger under the age of 18 with them in the car without parental approval.

Passenger restrictions like the one proposed in the bill have been said to help lower crash rates. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the fatal-crash risk with three or more passengers "is about 3 times higher than when a beginner drives alone."

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More than 2,500 drivers have been cited since Delaware’s hands-free cell phone law went into effect at the beginning of 2011, according to the Delaware Office of Highway Safety.

Office spokeswoman Alison Kirk says more than 350 people were issued cell phone citations in one day during a statewide crackdown on April 21. She says there have been 30 crashes involving cell phones as a distraction since the ban went into effect.

Cell phone users caught talking on their phones can expect a $50 ticket for their first offense, but after court costs the total can be more than $100. Subsequent cell phone offenses can result in fines between $100 and $200, although there are no points added to an offenders license for a cell phone violation.

Eleven people have been arrested in connection with an insurance fraud scheme allegedly involving University Collision Centers of Philadelphia. A Philadelphia police officer, a personal injury lawyer, seven auto damage appraisers and the owner and the manager of a Philadelphia collision repair shop have been charged in an insurance fraud scheme prosecutors say netted them millions over four years, according to reports made by Joseph A. Slobodzian, of ther Philadelphia Inquirer and

Prosecutors are alleging a forklift was modified by attaching one of three types of car bumpers to the tongues to create a variety of scrapes, dents and tears on automobiles. City prosecutors allege that University Collision workers would then report the damages to insurance companies for inflated payouts.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams and Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross announced the filing of felony charges against 11 people, who allegedly worked together to file numerous fraudulent insurance claims, at a Center City news conference.

The charges are the result of a lengthy undercover probe by the DA's Insurance Fraud Unit (IFU) with assistance from Nationwide Insurance Co., GEICO Insurance Co. and the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

"This is not a victimless crime," Williams said. "All Philadelphia consumers are affected."

Among the 11 charged as a result of the 13-month undercover investigation of University Collision Centers by the DA's Insurance Fraud Unit were:

- Philadelphia police officer Gary Cottrell, 44, a 15-year veteran of the force assigned to the 14th District in Germantown and Chestnut Hill. Cottrell allegedly was a "wreck chaser" who traveled throughout the city in uniform to direct accident victims to University Collision. A spokeswoman for the police noted that Cottrell had been suspended for 30 days with intent to dismiss. Cottrell faces a maximum of 152 years incarceration. Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross said corrupt officers are a minority of the 6,000-member department: “It’s very sad that all the other men and women on the force have to deal with this.”

- Michael Wolf, 52, of Phoenixville, Chester County, a lawyer with a Philadelphia practice. Wolf allegedly advised University Collision's owner in the fraud and also filed several phony personal injury claims with them. Wolf is a lawyer who has been licensed in Pennsylvania since 1988, and works at the firm of Kotsopoulos & Wolf P.C. They have offices in King of Prussia and Cherry Hill. He allegedly faces 103 years in prison.

- Edward Hildebrandt, 41, of Philadelphia, owner of University Collision, with operations in Gray's Ferry and Manayunk.

- David Coleman, 41, of Chadds Ford, Chester County, identified as manager of University Collision.

The seven vehicle damage appraisers included four from Philadelphia: Arthur Juliano, Addaie Amankwaaw, Cheryl Stanton, and Steve Wilkinson. The others were from South Jersey: Dave Robertson and John Howell, both of Cherry Hill, and Richard Reilly of Mullica Hill,Vicki Markovitz, an Assistant District Attorney, noted that the damage appraisers were independent and reviewed claims for most major insurance companies.

Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) announced April 27 that for the second consecutive year, it has been ranked one of the "Best Places to Work in New Jersey" according to NJBIZ Magazine, New Jersey's primary business journal covering the state. This award was designed to identify, recognize and honor the best places of employment in New Jersey, benefiting the state's economy, its workforce and businesses. The award program, created in 2005, is produced by NJBIZ and sponsored by Gibbons, P.C. and Novo Nordisk and is in partnership with Garden State Council SHRM, The New Jersey State Chamber, Employers Association of New Jersey and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.


Allstate responded April 26 to the Insurance Information Institute’s (III) announcement that fraud and abuse in New York State’s no-fault auto insurance system remains at crisis levels. III also revealed the estimated ‘fraud tax’ that New Yorkers paid in 2010 was $204 million—an amount exceeding $200 million for the second consecutive year. The New York State Senate Insurance Committee is holding a hearing on April 26 to examine the issue more closely.

Krista Conte, New York spokesperson for Allstate Insurance Company, said in response to the III announcement:

"We agree with the Insurance Information Institute that the scale of fraud and abuse in New York State's no-fault auto insurance system today has reached crisis levels. Not only is no-fault fraud (auto accident fraud) costing New York consumers and insurers hundreds of millions of dollars, it puts drivers at risk.

"Those who would commit this type of crime are taking advantage of the broken no-fault system and they are organized, calculating and part of a big business. In essence, the perpetrators of this crime are imposing a 'fraud tax' on honest, hard working New Yorkers by gaming the auto insurance system.

"Without the support of lawmakers, incidents of fraud will continue to increase. Responsible citizens are the victims. We urge lawmakers to enact comprehensive, meaningful no-fault insurance reform that puts citizens of New York first."