Tennessee nears new rules on tows, checkpoints

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Monday, March 17, 2014

Two bills that cleared the Tennessee General Assembly would put teeth into a towers rule and would instruct law enforcement to steer clear of certain checkpoints.

The first bill covers truckers and other drivers not present when their vehicle is towed.

Tennessee law requires tow truck operators to notify local law enforcement before taking a vehicle when the owner of the vehicle is not present. However, there is no penalty for failure to notify police of the vehicle’s identification number, registration information, license plate number, and description before towing.

The House voted 80-1 to send a bill to Gov. Bill Haslam that would add a penalty to state law. Senate lawmakers already approved SB1693 by unanimous consent.

If signed into law, towing violators would face as much as 12 months behind bars and/or up to $2,500 fines.

Sen. Becky Massey, R-Knoxville, said the punishment provision is needed to get the attention of law breakers.

“If police are not notified that a vehicle has been towed and an owner comes out and finds their vehicle is not there they’re going to call the police and say ‘it’s been stolen.’” Massey told members of the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee. “It causes major confusion. That’s why we put the original rule in place. This bill puts some teeth into the law because tow operators have been ignoring it.”

Another bill sent to the governor covers police involvement in traffic checkpoints. Specifically, SB1485 prohibits state and local police from participating in traffic checkpoints done by federal contractors.

Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, said the bill would help protect drivers from NHTSA-sponsored checkpoints where they are pressured into providing cheek swabs and blood samples for random DNA tests.

Bell says the practice has been reported in more than 30 U.S. cities.

“There is no way a non-governmental checkpoint should be allowed in Tennessee or any other state,” Bell said in a news release. “They certainly should not be pulling over motorists and coercing them to submit to a test without cause. This is a gross abuse of power.”

Bell said prohibiting police involvement would make it nearly impossible to continue to effectively pull over vehicles to conduct the random dragnets.

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