Accidents happen. Sometimes, no matter how cautious and well-prepared we are, things beyond our control leave us injured or lost and in need of help.
And then there are the "accidents" that could have been prevented easily with some planning and common sense.
But, no matter the cause, accidents can be expensive, especially when people get lost, stranded or hurt in isolated places and need to be rescued by government-funded crews using helicopters, Jeeps and other equipment over the course of many hours.
So accident victims shouldn't be surprised to receive a bill for services. Helping pay the cost of being rescued is part of the risk outdoor adventurers take when they head out into the wilderness, climb rocks or mountains or ride snowmobiles or all-terrain vehicles into remote areas.
Utah's Grand and Wayne counties are two of the few counties in the United States that charge for search and rescue services. Sheriffs in both counties make a good argument for sending bills to people they rescue. They rightly say searches and rescues are expensive and they don't have the tax revenue to pay for all of them. They also point out that the majority of people who need help don't live in their counties: Why should local taxpayers pay to rescue tourists?
That last argument is not as compelling as the first. Tourists are a prime source of revenue for those counties.
The National Association for Search & Rescue opposes billing because some people may hesitate to call 911 when they need help if they are worried about the cost. The association provides a list of 14 cases where it discovered victims had waited to call 911 or refused help because they were unable to pay fees.
But Grand County Sheriff Steve White doubts that happens often. He said he's never heard of a case in his county where someone who needed help didn't call or refused help when rescuers arrived because of the potential cost.
And White said his search and rescue squads are quick to respond, regardless of whether bills get paid. Often the rescued ignore the bill and face no consequences.
In 2011 Grand County sent bills for 52 search and rescue operations totaling $39,140 but collected only $22,917. In 14 cases, the accident victim didn't pay, and in 11 other cases, the recipient paid only part of the bill.
Billing for rescues makes sense for two reasons: Rural counties can't afford to shoulder all the cost, and sending bills is a way to encourage people to avoid taking unreasonable risks. That should be helpful for everyone.
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