Ohio bill against predatory towing heads to governor

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 12/15/2014

A push in Ohio to protect truckers and other drivers from being victimized by dishonest tow truck operators is headed to the governor’s desk.

Senate lawmakers voted 29-1 on Thursday, Dec. 11, to sign off on changes to a bill that covers concerns about predatory towing. House lawmakers approved it Wednesday by an 87-2 vote.

SB274 includes a provision that permits truck drivers to choose a tow company to remove a commercial vehicle following a wreck. If the preferred tow truck does not arrive within the period of time specified by police, law enforcement can go ahead and have the commercial vehicle removed.

A separate provision would require tow truck drivers to provide an estimate at the scene of a wreck.

Tow companies would also be required to inform people of their rights. For example, if the driver arrives while the tow operator is in the process of hauling off the vehicle, the tower would be required to notify the driver that they can pay a “drop fee,” which is half of the normal tow charge and get the vehicle back.

Sen. Jim Hughes, R-Columbus, said the bill imposes strict consequences for violating tow rules.

“We are working to crack down on predatory towing companies who may try to skirt the law in order to make an extra buck,” Hughes said in a news release.

The bill would also limit how far a vehicle can be towed. Specifically, vehicles towed from private property could only be moved up to 20 miles away unless it’s determined not to be practicable to store the vehicle within the area.

Tow operators would be required to snap enough pictures of the vehicle to show it is parked illegally. The date and time of the photo would also need to be recorded.

In addition, towing companies would be required to notify law enforcement of a vehicle’s removal within two hours. Tow trucks would also need to display their contact information on their fleet vehicles.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio would be given rule-making authority for enforcement.

“Essentially what we’re trying to do is modernize the towing structure in Ohio and protect vehicle owners from predatory towing practices,” Rep. Mike Duffey, R-Worthington, said in previous remarks.

Towing operations found to be in violation of the standards set by the bill would face $1,000 fines. Subsequent offenses would face $2,500 fines. Third-time offenders would have their certificate of public convenience revoked, which would bar them from towing until a new license is approved.

Vehicle owners could also bring a civil action against a towing service or storage facility that violates rules set in the law.

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