JEFFERSON CITY - Towing companies in the state could face tougher regulations as state lawmakers address "predatory" towing practices.
The Senate Task Force on Predatory Towing Practices met Thursday to discuss possible legislation to cut down on unfair towing practices, particularly in the Kansas City and St. Louis metropolitan areas. Several insurance agency representatives at the hearing said they've encountered price disparity between two tows of similar distances from the same towing company. They said there's no regulation when it comes to overcharging customers. They also said they've seen bills from towing companies with extensive "administrative" fees and charges that lead to tows costing more than they should.
They also said the lack of regulation in the state means some tow companies are taking advantage of customers by bullying them into using their services in the event of an accident. Don Allen, an auto adjuster for Farmers Insurance in Kansas City, said tow trucks will show up to the scene of an accident and tell customers they have no choice but to have their car towed immediately, before the customers can call their insurance agency or another towing company. Allen urged lawmakers to address the bullying and rate hikes occurring at the hands of some towing companies.
"Anything would be helpful at this point," Allen said.
Paul Lewis, a member of the Towing and Recovery Association of Missouri, said he and the board of the association are trying to come up with a plan to address these unfair towing practices without hurting towers that are conducting business fairly. He and several others that testified at the hearing pointed to states like California, Illinois and Nevada that have passed regulations that address predatory towing practices. One regulation in Illinois law states that towing companies can't show up to the scene of an accident and tow the car away before law enforcement arrives.
"Once the tow company hooks onto your car, they've got total control of it," Sen. Brian Munzlinger (R-Williamstown) said. "That's why we feel we need some regulations."
At the hearing, task force members said they plan to address these towing concerns through legislation during the upcoming legislative session. Task force members called on Sen. Paul Wieland (R-Jefferson County), the predatory towing task force chair, to file towing legislation as a placeholder to get it on the calendar for the upcoming session. Members briefly discussed possible ideas for regulation in the state, including requiring all tow companies to have a storefront that is open to the public during normal business hours, and preventing unauthorized tows to a county other than the one in which the tow originated.
Munzlinger noted that requiring towing businesses to operate storefronts does not take into consideration businesses in smaller counties, in which the owners may have several other jobs throughout the week and would not be able to operate a regular storefront. Munzlinger said he hoped filing legislation would bring this issue to the attention of law enforcement agencies and county governments, who then might want to share their perspectives at future task force meetings.