FAST ACT: States gain authority to regulate nonconsensual tows

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line staff writer | 12/9/2015

A recent provision signed into law gives state governments the regulation authority of towing companies in hopes of eliminating predatory practices.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association supports the provision and has sent letters to all 50 governors encouraging states to address the regulation of nonconsensual tows.

The five-year Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or FAST Act, was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 4. The bipartisan legislation passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Dec. 3 by a vote of 359-65 and the Senate later that same day by a vote of 83-16. The 1,300-page legislation authorizes federal surface programs through fiscal year 2020, providing $305 billion for roads, bridges and mass transit.

Section 5514 of the FAST Act, which was introduced by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., addresses the regulation of tow truck operations.

“Passage of this law is a victory for communities in Maryland and across the country that have struggled to control the outrageous, predatory tactics used by some towing companies,” Van Hollen said in a news release. “Local jurisdictions will now have the unambiguous authority to end egregious fees, ban the practice of ‘spotting,’ mandate proper signage and strike the proper balance based on the needs of their consumers and businesses.”

The news release states that Congress inadvertently pre-empted the ability of state and local governments to regulate the towing industry in 1994. Since then confusing restrictions and conflicting court rulings have left local governments unable to fully protect consumers.

OOIDA Director of State Legislative Affairs Mike Matousek said it is not uncommon for truck drivers to be overcharged tens of thousands of dollars for tows.

“During a nonconsensual tow, there is usually no opportunity for motorists to negotiate services or compare prices among multiple towing operators,” Matousek wrote in his letter to governors. “Unfortunately, as it relates to trucking, truck drivers are routinely held responsible for towing bills that are blatantly inflated by tens of thousands of dollars. And there is often no effective or efficient recourse. The impact on small-business truckers can be financially devastating.”

Matousek said some states had previously expressed interest in addressing issues related to nonconsensual tows, but were hamstrung by statutory limitations. The provision introduced by Van Hollen and Beyer eliminates those limitations.

OOIDA’s stance is not meant as an attack against the towing industry.

“To be clear, OOIDA is not against towing operators making a living,” Matousek wrote. “In fact, there are towing operators who are members of OOIDA. But we are against towing operators who inflate their invoices simply because they can due to inadequate state regulations or a lack of enforcement. This fraudulent practice must stop, and we believe Rep. Van Hollen’s language gives states the necessary authority to regulate all nonconsensual tows to protect motorists.”

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