California law targets 'bandit' tow truck operators

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 9/28/2015

A new law in California would curb crooked tow truck operations that take advantage of drivers.

State law already prohibits tow truck drivers from soliciting tows for disabled vehicles. However, officials report the law is difficult, if not impossible, to enforce because tow truck drivers do not need to provide documentation to police that they were solicited to a scene for a tow.

From Jan. 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014, there were 586 complaints involving unsolicited tows throughout the state, according to Assemblyman Richard Bloom’s office. However, Bloom cautions the numbers could actually be higher as state and local police believe the incidents are greatly underreported.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill targeting “bandit tow truck drivers.” Specifically, the new law requires all tow operators to maintain documents showing that they are summoned to or flagged down at the scene of an accident or disabled vehicle.

Bloom, D-Santa Monica, said the new rules will close a loophole in existing law and prevent unsolicited tow truck operators from towing disabled vehicles away from accident scenes and holding them hostage until the owner pays an exorbitant release fee, which can often reach thousands of dollars.

“Unscrupulous tow scams are on the rise,” Bloom said in prepared remarks. The new rules “will protect both consumers and legitimate tow truck drivers by prohibiting these bandit operators from preying on accident victims and poaching the work from our honest local towing businesses.”

Previously AB1222, the new law also requires tow truck drivers to provide customers with a detailed estimate of charges and services to be performed before attaching the disabled vehicle to the tow truck.

Towing and storage fees are also capped.

Violators would face $2,500 fines and/or up to 90 days in jail.

Mike Matousek, OOIDA director of state legislative affairs, said the towing reform law appears to be good for all drivers.

“While the provisions are probably more applicable to passenger automobiles, it could potentially protect small-business truckers from towing companies that have bad intentions,” Matousek said. “Moving forward, we will certainly encourage the Legislature to consider additional reforms.”

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