Unlike Kansas, California and Florida have laws allowing municipalities to set price guidelines for tow companies

Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug said this week the county’s hands were tied when it comes to regulating prices charged by local towing companies.

But further research shows some states and municipalities have found ways to keep charges down.

Sunday’s Journal-World article highlighted the story of Lawrence man Ray Bloxsom, who was charged $675 by a local towing company after he was in an accident on Kentucky Street. Bloxsom’s charges included a “mileage charge” of $125, even though his vehicle was towed only three miles.

After his accident, Bloxsom told police he had no preference for which company county dispatchers called for assistance. Douglas County Dispatch operates a rotation list system with 10 local tow companies, and when someone expresses no preference, dispatchers call the next name on the list.

But the county doesn’t regulate how much tow companies can charge for services.

Weinaug cited federal law prohibiting municipalities from excluding companies from the list if they charge too much, or setting a price cap for services.

While there are restrictions against capping tow prices, outlined in the 1995 federal Motor’s Carrier Act, those guidelines don’t pertain to the type of “non-preference” tows included in rotation list systems operated by Douglas County, said Sam Brewer, past president of the Professional Wrecker Operators of Florida.

Per Florida law, counties set the rates tow companies can charge for non-preference tows, Brewer said. And government entities have discretion about who is or is not on rotation lists, said Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Steve Gaskins.

If companies overcharge, the Highway Patrol investigates to make sure the rates conform to county standards.

“If there’s a problem, we kick them off,” Gaskins said.

In California, lawmakers have passed legislation allowing government entities to regulate tow prices, said Glenn Neal, executive director of the California Trucking Association.

Neal said companies on rotation lists must keep their charges within 15 percent of other services on the list. The regulations help keep prices competitive and fair, he said.

Weinaug said that Douglas County officials looked at options several years ago to regulate prices, but couldn’t come up with anything that wouldn’t violate the federal law. But Weinaug said the county would be receptive to options that would set standard prices.

“We would be ecstatic to look at it,” he said.