Tuesday, January 20, 2009

An Open Letter To President Obama (Stopping Predatory Towing Is A Clever And Amazingly Cheap Policy Tweak)

Flickr.com Photo

Dear President Obama,

I'm sure a gazillion editorial writers all have suggestions for you, and something like this blog post is likely to get lost in the shuffle like...car keys in half-frozen Minnesota slush. But what you said today about George Washington at Valley Forge made me think, well, I have to at least TRY to make my country a little better....

I'm hoping this blog post might somehow get to one of your low-level administration officials, a congressional or senate aide, SOMEBODY who sees the sense in this assertion: Some "policy tweaks" can really help the people of the nation and its economy, but don't cost much money at all. Regulating predatory towing is one such policy tweak.

What Predatory Towing Costs The Nation

The loss of a vehicle--even temporary--keeps individuals from getting to work. It creates chaos in personal schedules, and then concentric rings of chaos which ripple into society. Somewhere, a nurse doesn't show up for work, and another nurse has to work overtime, stressed out, more prone to make mistakes. Somewhere a teacher doesn't make it to school and a substitute teacher--sincere, but less skilled and prepared--has to fill in for half of the day. The students suffer. And so forth.

(Geez, Mr. President, this really reminds me of the poem read at your inauguration, but in a negative way. Yes, "somewhere somebody patches a tire." YES, BECAUSE A TOW TRUCK DRIVER DRAGGED THE VEHICLE SEVERAL MILES WITH THE BRAKES ENGAGED, CLICK HERE. Oh, gee, turns out that particular tire problem can't be patched)

This chaos caused by the towing of vehicles might be something society could absorb, because parking rules must be enforced, and a lack of parking creates its own chaos. But here's the problem: there is overwhelming documentation that some towing companies--certainly not all--engage in abusive, predatory practices. And it has only gotten worse in the current tough economy. And, like you said...things will get worse before getting better.

The recovery rates for impounded vehicles are shocking. We're grabbing cars from poor people and selling the vehicles for scrap, or shipping the cars to Mexico for pennies on the dollar. People who have nowhere left to live but their car suddenly have nowhere left to live but under a bridge. All of this is because we don't place a high enough priority on clever, high-tech solutions. Why shouldn't Americans be notified by cell phone or Blackberry (I know you love your Blackberry, Mr. President) of an impending tow?

Why shouldn't Americans be told "move it or lose it" before having their car seized and held hostage? Or at least have regulation which requires--good grief, Mr. President--reasonably visible signage?

An Uprising Among Some Vehicle Owners

Sir, recently there have been instances of rebellion and protest around this issue. There has been violence as some vehicle owners--pushed to the absolute limit--fight back against tow truck operators.

It really doesn't have to be this way. States already have the ability to regulate towing operations in sensible ways, but many just don't. Worse, there is evidence the dirty money which comes from aggressive, predatory towing gets into city politics, as we see in places like Springfield, Massachusetts. This blog has been documenting the problem for months, in numerous states.

Some Clever Policy Tweaks Are Cheap

I'd like to compare what I'm suggesting to something which happened under the Clinton Administration. In a bipartisan effort, the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act was passed. It's a sensible law which allows restaurants and grocery stores to donate food to soup kitchens, food banks, homeless shelters, etc. and be protected from liability as long as they make the donations with "normal care."

Just by casting a shield of protection from liability, this law has managed to shake loose all kinds of donations to hungry people, just like that! With the stroke of a pen. It's not only good politics, but very FRUGAL politics.

Towing regulation can happen in the same way. Just by making sure drivers aren't abused by towing operators, and don't lose their vehicles willy-nilly because of abuses, you can keep people participating in the economy and prevent many personal disasters.

Sure, when people voted for you, predatory towing was probably the last thing on their minds. But people are expecting you to be CLEVER, for your administration to pull some kind of amazing miracle from somewhere and help turn the economy around.

This suggestion small, but this will help.

Please, Mr. President, do something to help stop the economic damage and abuses to individual Americans caused by the well-documented problem of predatory towing.

P.S. If you like this idea, sir, I've got another clever policy proposal in regard to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" which I call "Fortresses of Englightment."

Standard Post Addendum:

(Click here for list of various regulatory tactics. Click here for website of Compiled Logic, a company involved in solving these complex problems associated with "non-consent towing" issues)


Anonymous said...

I suppose you have had your car towed before or know someone and want to vent. Thats great. Since I work for a towing company I know how easy it is to make the towing industry look bad with idiots that drag cars with the brake on or who charge storage for a vehicle that has sat less then an hour on their impound lot. While I appreciate your post...I hope that someone reads and gets something out of this. Lets start with the signs, yes I agree make them bigger! It might cut down a small percentage of those who just dont care or are too busy on that blackberry you mentioned to read the sign that they just parked under. You laugh I have pictures that should be posted just to show how some people just dont get it. We used to patrol a shopping mall lot for the Firelane and handicap parking areas. This property owner came to the towing agency after they had the city fine and write a million violations after some lazy motorist decided to park in the Firelane and a woman fell in the store and the fire department could not reach the front door to help this woman quicker because that vehicle was parked there. So now comes along a tow truck and starts removing vehicles. Heres some great lines I heard personally when I used to drive. "I was only parked for a minute" "I was only getting ..." "I didnt see any sign" (Now we ALL know and see Firelane markings at all malls, and majority of store fronts. "I had to run in because my son is in the car" (Yes...their infant son left in the car, which I didnt tow..but had to sit for 15 minutes and wait for the police to show up!) Same goes for handicap spots, I would cringe watching some poor couple drive around looking for a spot while their spaces were full because someone couldnt walk a bit farther. Moving on...that "nurse" might have his/her day thrown into chaos..but the property owners and towing agencies didnt tell them to park there, they didnt give them permission to park in those lots. They do not own the vehicle! It is the drivers responsiblity to be in control of their vehicle and know what they are doing while operating it. Is there predatory towing going on? Yes. Should there be some sort of control on it? Yes. But before we talk about costs, let me please give everyone a slight idea what it costs to run one of these trucks. Looking at tow411.net you can find a simple Ford Flatbed for 58,000 used. I picked a flatbed because thats what we run (helps prevent drivers from damaging vehicles) Then we add on TAX ...might wana ask the President about that one. In some cases you have IFTA which is great...your being taxed on the overpriced diesel fuel that you paid tax on when you pumped it or paid out 60,000 for 1 quarter. Then dont forget HUT which is highway use tax...so you pay to use drive on those roads. Insurance, we pay out around 90,000 for insurance on 13 vehicles. Granted we bump up our policy a bit to cover our you know whats. Maintaining the vehicles, you know those nifty yellow lightbars that are on those trucks to keep the motorist who is using their blackberry while driving from hitting the operator can cost over 1,000 dollars. So...pay the driver their commission for the tow, pay the fuel used (at 10 mpg on a good day) pay out your insurance, pay the dispatcher who answered the phone and dealt with the owner of the car when they came in and blasted the poor girl who didnt park the car or even touch it. Pay the heat, lights, and all other goodies along with a business...and your not rich like people think we are.
"This is some racket you got" I love that line. Has anyone said that to the President and our tax collectors?
We use a pricing guide that is agreed on by the local towns and cities. So if your towed because you were in an accident or your car was towed by a police agency or your car was towed by a private property owner...your going to pay the same. We try to set a fair storage deal where your not paying as soon as the car hits the lot like those "Predators" do. We will charge extra for coming in at 11 at night to wake someone up to come in and open the doors and gate to process your paperwork. We do take pride in how our equipment looks and how our drivers look. If something were to happen to a customers vehicle, we make it right and that operator is either educated or terminated depending on the issue. Its companies like the one that you posted that will give everyone a bad rep. Its funny that I came across this today as I just hung up with an apartment complex to tell the manager that we do not want to do private property impounds because of all the problems that come with it. I have to spend time now in court because someone could not read the sign they were parked under that said "Tenants only"
We would rather be on the side of the road playing in traffic helping that nurse or teacher who broke down and is in the freezing cold so they can make it home safe or get somewhere warm.
Please I hope that someone gets something out from this before they think everyone is a Predator and dont just point fingers at all tow trucks.

Johnny T. Utopia said...

Watch this. Watch this thing I'm about to do.


It's called a paragraph break.

Chelle99 said...

I would like to add a comment to this topic. My boyfriend had borrowed my vehicle for the day and in the afternoon I received a phone call from an investigator to tell me he was looking for my vehicle because it fit an eye witness desdription with 4 of the tag numbers matching my tag, the color and make matched and the fact that a male was driving. He told me my vehicle was involved in a "hit and run crime". I explained that my boyfried was driving the vehicle today and I would contact him and find out where he was and when we could arrange a place and time to meet so the investigator could examine the vehicle. When speaking with my boyfriend he assured me he had not been involved in ANY accident that day and would be glad to meet at our house around 8pm because he was working on bleeding the brakes all day with a friend of his. So I call back the investigator and give him the time to meet. (odd but maybe not , I HAD TO ASK THE INVESTIGATOR IF HE NEEDED MY ADDRESS, but i guess he could have had it on my vehicle registration----yet he paused and replied with oh....yeah that would be great). Well 8pm came around and neither of them showed up. I found in EXTREMELY odd the investigator didn't even show up! So at 8:30 I called the investigator to find out if he was running late and had to leave a message on a voice mail. He NEVER CALLED ME BACK THAT NIGHT! I also called my boyfriend who also did not answer and I had to leave him a voice mail also. Neither showed up all night. LATE that evening, my boyfriend finally called me back to let me know he was being arrested! I was shocked and asked if there really was a hit and run and were these the charges? He regretted to let me know those were not he charges. He had fallen asleep in the van after geting the brakes done and a couple of his friends were caught breaking and entering and atempting to burgurlarize an abandoned building (a bar?) while he slept in the van. I was livid to say the least! I am a single mother and this is my only vehicle, and unemployed on top of it, so I NEED the vehicle to look for jobs! It took me almost 10-15 phone calls of getting sent on a wild goose hunt to locate anyone with information on how to get my vehicle or where it was at and still ended up empty handed in the end forcing me to wait until morning. Well it turned out hat hey impounded my vehicle!!!! NOW to me that was just ridiclous considering the investigator had my informaiton and could have easily called me to find out if I could get someone to bring me to my vehicle and pick it up. But that never happened! Instead, less than a week before Christmas, the investigator told me I had to pay 285.0 in order to get my vehicle back. I asked if the vehicle was drivable or if there appeared to be any damage and he quckly replied by telling me, NO, maam. The vehicle is in tact and doesn't seem to have any problems or signs of damage! I has taken me over a month to SCRAPE up the 285.00 that was going to be for my utilities, groceried, etc. My children had to settle for gifts that I could scrape out of the dollar stores just to have something under the tree for them. I am so upset about he entire situation! Because not only was I co-operative and polite and helpfuld with him throught the day, he deceived me and then impounded my "UNDAMAGED" vehicle and left me without transportation for over a month while i have had to beg, borrow, and rob money from utility bills, rent, in order to come up with an extra 285.00 I didn'thave to begin with. That investigator had all my information yet he never atempted to call me or apologize for lying to me (becuase I feel like i was lied to when he agreed to meet at 8pm) let alone apologize for not calling when he didn't show up. As it turns out, the charges against my boyfriend aren't even going tohold up in court because he wasn't participating in the act of the crime/he was sleeping! Not to mention the arresting officers on the scene used excessive force when aprehending him and has a 95% of surgery required to correct the damage they cause to one of his feet (all on video from patrol car), also there were 3 officers present, the report only listed 2 officers (aren't they required to list all parties present in case they need to be questioned?) and the arrest report was writen incorrectly and the video proves this too! I just found out hat ther was a rope/chain/something tied to the bumper of my van and they are trying to charge him with possession of burglary tools! However, I carry a rope and chain in van ALL the time in case i need to help someone possible pull another vehicle to get a person to a gas station or out at least move the vehicle to keep the owners on the vehicle from having to leave it on the side of the road. Those are towing tools! I beleive it was unfair and a racket for the county to just get more money. In our Nation's present economic condition with the unemployment rates so high and people are struggling to make ends meet even using life savings, I beleive an ethical person of the law should have called me to give me the option to pick up the vehicle (after they photograph the dern rope and chain) or at the VERY VERY VERY LEAST EXPLAIN IN DETAIL WHY I COULDNT GET IT AND TELL ME WHY HE LIED TO ME ABOUT THE "HIT AND RUN CRIME"! I am goinf with my sister to pick up my vehicle today 1-23-09 (was impounded 12-18-08/which indicates how it took for me to get he money together while having to beg my mtg co and utility co's to work with me so I could continue to keep a roof with power and water over my childrens heads and care for them properly)!!! This type of unethical action should not be allowed or condoned by any officer of the law and there should be some compassion and ethics taught to these employees. ESPECIALLY 6 DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS!!!! ESPECIALLY FOR A SINGLE MOTHER OF TWO UNEMPLOYED, TRYING TO PROVIDE FOR HER KIDS AND TRYING TO FIND A JOB WITHOUT SUCCESS IN OVER 8 MOS AT THAT TIME!

p.s. Oh yeah and they TOWED the vehicle! If nothing was wrong with it, then why didn't they just drive it? This only added another $35.00 to my fees! I can't wait to see the vehicle and find out if it really is damaged and I was told more lies or not.

Thank you for allowing me to post my opinion on this topic.

Anonymous said...

Love the blog! We have started a law firm that is dedicated to helping those who have been subject to predatory towing. If you care, please email me at ben@bigtowlaw.com. I would really like to talk to you.

Our website is www.bigtowlaw.com



1) CALL YOUR LOCAL MEDIA: Expose the racketeers.

2) DEMAND A RECEIPT: Operators of illegal parking lot scams will often target parking lots and arrange for a paid lookout to scout for victims. Fees to release a car from impoundment are often demanded in cash, leaving no paper trail.

3) CALL THE POLICE BEFORE YOU PAY: Chances are that the police will renege on their responsibility to protect you and will take sides with the extortionists. Just insist that you get a police report. Ask them why you are being punished with a fine by a citizen, and why you aren't being given your Constitutionally guaranteed "due process" and "right to appeal."

4) GET THE NAME OF THE PARKING LOT ATTENDANT, THE NAME OF THE OWNER, AND THE NAME OF THE BUSINESS: You will need this information to file a civil suit

5) FILE A CIVIL SUIT. ASK THE COURT CLERK ABOUT WAIVING THE FEES: Your court fees may be waived and then charged to the defendant when you win your case. Sue for the maximum amount of money allowed in small claims court. Sue for "extortion," "intimidation," "illegal detainment," and "tampering with your motor vehicle without permission." Don't merely settle for just your money back.

Rich L said...

My car was towed by a private tow company from a McDonald's parking lot in Chicago while I was buying food there today. This company was hired by McDonald's, but the manager in charge refused to help. 2 double-cheeseburgers cost me $174.00. I plan to give everyone involved hell about this until someone makes it right, apologizes and refunds my money. The general public often chooses to lie down and take the beating because that is less stressful and costly than a legal resolution. McDonald's made a huge mistake by refusing to help me, as they knew the mistake at the time. Unfortunately, this was a Saturday afternoon and McDonald's main office was closed.
Part of the cost of this.... public fury. We don't all just lie down and take the beating, just the weaker ones. How can I have faith in my government that allows these predatory towing practices to exist? How does my government expect me to remain sane, while dealing with these pirates? Something needs to be done. The previous poster should take a good hard look at his profession. Is that what makes you proud of yourself? To sit and wait for someone to leave their car so you can steal it? Something needs to be done.