MASSPIRG calls for stronger consumer protections in towing

MASSPIRG testifies in support of state bill to protect consumers when their cars get towed.

Towing a car on the roadside
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MASSPIRG’s Legislative Director Deirdre Cummings testified before the state legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy in support of S. 2085, An Act relative to towing protections, filed by Senator Brownsberger.

Every year, millions of Americans have their cars towed without their consent from a private property or public street. Too often, the unknown rationale behind these tows and what to do next can leave drivers stranded and confused. While getting towed is a justified consequence of parking in the wrong place or for too long, we must offer drivers the decency of basic consumer protections such as access to their wallets, medicine and possessions, or the ability to pay with debit/credit card.

Under the best circumstances, getting towed is an ordeal, even when justified. For many drivers, however, the situation is compounded because our current consumer protections are incomplete and outdated.

MASSPIRG Education Fund identified 14 common sense towing protections that should be available to consumers in every state.  Our report, Getting Off The Hook of a Predatory Tow, outlines protections ranging from who is responsible for damages caused by careless towing, to the maximum rates and fees owed when towed, to whether you are guaranteed the option to pay by credit card.

An Act relative to towing protections offers much needed and overdue protections for drivers who have had their cars towed. If passed, the law would:

  • Require motor vehicle storage facilities to allow the owner of a car to remove any possessions from the car if the individual is unable to pay the tow and storage fee in full.
  • Prevent car storage facilities from charging anything other than the towing and storage charges.
  • Require both the car storage facility and tow trucks to have credit card readers to accept debit and credit cards in addition to cash.
  • Require towing companies and storage facilities to provide itemized receipt of charges.
  • Require private property owners to include the removal and storage fees on their signs notifying tow areas.
  • Require tow companies to take a picture of the vehicle parking/standing in a private right of way before towing.
  • Require towing companies removing vehicles on private right of way to release the car before the tow for half of full towing fee.

Our current towing consumer protections include:

  • In the case of an involuntary or police-ordered tow from private property, Massachusetts towing companies can charge a maximum towing rate of $108.
  • In the case of an involuntary tow, Massachusetts towing companies can charge a maximum storage rate of $35 per 24-hour period.
  • After removing a vehicle, the tow company must notify law enforcement of the towing.
  • If the vehicle owner returns before their car is towed, the tower must release it for a drop fee no greater than half of the intended towing cost. (when notified by police or public authority)
  • If a vehicle tow is proven illegal, the towing company must release the vehicle to the owner without charging for removal or storage.

S. 2085, An Act relative to towing protections, will add critical consumer protections to our towing laws.

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Authors

Deirdre Cummings

Legislative Director, MASSPIRG

Deirdre runs MASSPIRG’s public health, consumer protection and tax and budget programs. Deirdre has led campaigns to improve public records law and require all state spending to be transparent and available on an easy-to-use website, close $400 million in corporate tax loopholes, protect the state’s retail sales laws to reduce overcharges and preserve price disclosures, reduce costs of health insurance and prescription drugs, and more. Deirdre also oversees a Consumer Action Center in Weymouth, Mass., which has mediated 17,000 complaints and returned $4 million to Massachusetts consumers since 1989. Deirdre currently resides in Maynard, Mass., with her family. Over the years she has visited all but one of the state's 351 towns — Gosnold.

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