Sunday, January 11, 2009

Thumbnail Summary Of Regulatory Tactics Directed At Predatory Towing Photo

This post is intended for the researcher or policy-maker seeking a road map or thumbnail summary of regulatory tactics used by cities, states and counties seeking to curtail predatory towing practices...

For simplicity, I will list the various tricks and provide a link with each example.

1.) Outlaw "patrol towing." The practice known as "patrol towing" takes place when the owner of a parking lot gives a towing company free reign to tow unauthorized vehicles, without the need to call about particular vehicles.

Unscrupulous, "bad apple" towing companies will engage in abusive behavior when given such free reign, even towing legally parked vehicles because abuses are usually difficult to prove. Some will actually station "spotters" in parked vehicles or trees to catch as many cars as possible. Because "patrol towing is so rife with abuse, some states such as California have outlawed it, click here.

2.) Outlaw or severely restrict "booting" of cars. Often, booting is more lucrative than towing vehicles. Ransoms can be demanded on the spot, but because each ransom requires a confrontation between booter and driver, violence will happen sooner or later. Cities such as Minneapolis have outlawed booting except in very small lots where tow trucks can't maneuver, click here for link.

3.) The "Let People Get Their Stuff" law, click here. This law allows people to recover items from their towed vehicles (medicine, children's photos, their wallets, for crying out loud) without having to pay to get the vehicle out of impound, for the sake of mercy and human decency.

I've actually had some difficulty nailing down whether this bill passed in Minnesota, because there was so much controversy with that particular transportation bill, and any reporting on this issue was lost in the shuffle. Even Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman was unable to answer my follow-ups about whether the bill he wrote about actually passed.

HOWEVER, a recent trip to the Minneapolis impound lot to recover my stolen van, and some questions I asked there, led me to the conclusion the law did indeed pass or, in the alternative, Minneapolis has altered its policies to "let people get their stuff." This is a great law and should be adopted nationally.

4.) Require towing companies to take checks and credit cards, not just cash. California, which has some of the most highly-developed anti-predatory towing laws in the nation, click here, is one place that outlaws "cash only."

5.) Require impound lots to be reasonable distances from the places where cars are towed. Hawaii, for example, requires this, click here. (Of course, somebody in Hawaii has found a loophole, and it's called "Sand Island.")

6.) Mandatory drop, or greatly reduced fees. If the driver gets to his/her vehicle before the tow truck leaves the lot, a greatly reduced towing fee is required, or even a "free drop." Once again, Hawaii requires this, click here, but this is a fairly common rule around the country. It prevents violence and it is reasonable that a "drop" should cost less than an impound.

7.) Regulating signage. Many traps are laid for the unwary because of unclear, confusing, missing or deliberately deceptive signage. Kansas City, Missouri has been forced to address the issue of bad signage, click here, but once again this is a very common form of towing regulation.

8.) Caps, caps, caps. Everything from the price of the tow, to the daily and HOURLY impound lot storage fee, to where tows can take place and how often, all these things can be capped and regulated. Portland has capped towing fees, click here.

9.) One-hour rule. In California, a vehicle must be illegally parked FOR AN HOUR before being towed, click here. (There are exceptions for vehicles presenting an immediate safety hazard)

10.) Outlaw kick-backs. Please note, this list is NOT in order of importance. Outlawing kickbacks is very important, and if the list were ranked, it might be at No. 1 or No. 2.

"Kickbacks" happen when the owner of a parking lot gets a cut from the various vehicles towed from that lot. Such incentives inevitably lead to abuses. Florida, for example, is a state which outlaws towing kickbacks, click here.

11.) A towing "commission" or "authority." Though I have only a limited amount of faith in this tactic, many jurisdictions have such entities, such as Falls Church, Virginia, click here. The problem with such commissions seems to be "political horse-trading" which takes place prior to their creation. In throwing a bone to powerful towing interests, these commissions are created as relatively toothless entities.

12.) Sting operations directed at predatory towing. Asheville, North Carolina may have saved its reputation as a worthwhile "destination city" by using this tactic, click here.

13.) "Humane and merciful" short towing. Some cities such as Montreal and Madison, Wisconsin deal with snow emergencies by towing non-compliant cars to places where parking is legal instead of impounding the cars, click here, (Montreal) and here (Madison). In Albany, New York, police were actually running plate numbers and BANGING ON THE DOORS OF HOMES to avoid towing citizens, click here.

Cars subjected to "humane and merciful" short tows are apparently still given a ticket and charged for the short tow, but the charges are still much less than being impounded.

14.) Tows must be documented. In California, before a car can be impounded it must be photographed to show how it was non-compliant, and (apparently) the condition of the car prior to being towed, click here.

15.) System transparency, jurisdictions sharing info, modern rather than archaic information systems.

It is essential for jurisdictions to share information with each other so cars can be located in the system, especially stolen cars. Police, insurance companies, owners and tow truck drivers all need to be able to track vehicles. (Police sometimes solve obtain clues to crimes this way, though this is something of an added bonus)

Increasingly, attempts are being made to link as many jurisdictions as possible and create a kind of national network. Here's a recent article in the much-respected "Police Chief Magazine," click here, which talks about those efforts. The author of the article, Ron Smith, works for a company called Compiled Logic of Houston, Texas which helps jurisdictions cost-effectively manage their towing information systems.

16.) Raising consciousness, fighting back against abuses. If you are subjected to predatory towing, don't be silent. Contact this blog through the comments function or by email ( Find the company which mistreated you online, and write a scathing review. File a complaint with your state attorney general, consumer affairs division. Write to your city, county and state authorities.

Rip Off Report Dot Com is a particularly good place to make the record. When somebody Googles the name of the towing company, the "rip off report" will come up, as well.

WRITE TO YOUR SENATOR OR CONGRESSMAN and reference this blog, and ask for renewed federal regulatory action to stop predatory towing but--and this is really important--require jurisdictions to share information and create a seamless national web of information to locate missing cars. Nationally, it is estimated 25 percent of impounded cars are not claimed. This is something we can't afford!

Use this blog to educate yourself about predatory towing patterns and solutions by going through these posts and reading up. I'm just one guy with a blog. I drive really crummy cars. There's only so much I can do, but because of small efforts like this, public consciousness about predatory towing is growing and it will surely have national consequences. Already, there have been protests and uprisings, click here. Political candidates have been elected partially because of these issues, click here.

This is a modern civil rights movement; your right to the freedom, property ownership and pursuit of happiness represented by your precious, beloved car. There is plenty of opportunity to play a role in this movement; even a small role represented by a few emails, photographs, or online comments.

We are Americans, and Americans love their cars. When somebody kidnaps your car and holds it ransom on flimsy pretenses, why, that's just un-American!

It's time for Americans to fight back against abusive and predatory towing.

1 comment:

Dragonater said...

49 US Code § 1450 (formerly the Federal Aviation Authority Authorization Act) authorizes cities and counties to regulate max prices for non-consentual towing.

49 US Code § 14501. Federal authority over intrastate transportation

(c) Motor Carriers of Property.—

(2) Matters not covered.— Paragraph (1)—

(C) does not apply to the authority of a State or a political subdivision of a State to enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision relating to the price of for-hire motor vehicle transportation by a tow truck, if such transportation is performed without the prior consent or authorization of the owner or operator of the motor vehicle.

This is the law that tow crooks fear most, and laws allowing citizen's arrest and justifiable homicide in self defense.

Many govt noncon towing contracts are lowball bid-rigged to set max prices between zero and $25. Examples of noncon towing contracts for zero dollars:

Never forget you are dealing with mafia car thieves, and treat them accordingly, with police not much better (or worse). Our ex-sheriff Joe Jenkins was sent to prison for stealing $1-million in cars per day from car dealerships. Our prior sheriff Tim Hutchison stole cars at West Town Mall with convicted copkiller towtrucker Roy Lee Clark, who chopped them for parts at his chopshop, according to our current sheriff and Hutch's confession on the front page of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

to steal; filch.
to buy (narcotics).
cop out, to avoid one's responsibility, the fulfillment of a promise, etc.; renege; back out.
cop a plea.
to plead guilty or confess in return for receiving a lighter sentence.
to plead guilty to a lesser charge as a means of bargaining one's way out of standing trial for a more serious charge; plea-bargain.
-Random House Unabridged Dictionary

"10% of cops are honest, 10% are dishonest, and 80% wish they were honest."
-Detective Frank Serpico, NYPD, testimony to Knapp Commission

"I’ll burn your house down, set your dog on fire and there won’t be a member of your family left, do you understand me? I won’t hire it done, I will do it myself! Do you understand me?”
-Blount County TN sheriff James Berrong, United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, Nuchols v. Berrong, No. 04-5645, July 11, 2005