Predatory towers beware

Our view: Revised law would deter those who prey on motorists

August 10, 2008

There are words for unlicensed towing companies that prey on injured motorists and charge exorbitant fees to redeem a wrecked vehicle. Unscrupulous or scurrilous will do. These predatory towers have been known to charge as much as $1,000 to release a car that's been involved in an accident. That's 100 times the legal rate for towers summoned to the scene by police.

Baltimore Councilman Robert W. Curran has introduced legislation to discourage predatory towing. His bill would withdraw a driver's right to call whomever he or she wants and allow only towing companies that have city-issued medallions, motor clubs and insurance companies to respond to an accident scene. The City Council should approve the bill.

It's an improvement on the present system, but the test would be in how it works on the streets of Baltimore.

The way the system works now is the police commissioner maintains a list of medallion towers (16 companies in all) to be called that must respond within 20 minutes to an accident scene or emergency. He also approves their towing rates.How do the predators get involved? They pick up police radio calls for an emergency tow and arrive on an accident scene first. A driver may be injured and unable to negotiate, and the police want to clear the roadway as soon as possible. The unlicensed tower steps in and whisks away the car. It's only later that an insurance company representative or the vehicle's owner gets hit with a big tow bill - in excess of the $115 maximum for medallion towers - and related storage charges.

Those fees are helping to drive up insurance costs, Mr. Curran says, and that's another reason to strengthen the law.

A tower who violates the proposed law could receive a citation and face a $1,000 fine or 12 months in jail, penalties that should be increased to deter predatory towing. These price-gougers may think twice if they know it's going to cost them.

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