Motorists with cars that have broken down or been involved in an accident need to get their vehicles off the street and towed for repairs. But whom do you call for a tow in Douglas County?
If you don’t have a preferred service, Douglas County emergency dispatchers can call a towing company from a rotating list of 10 companies. Each company charges a different rate and some charge more for additional services, such as cleaning glass from the accident scene. Total charges can vary from $100 to $900 or more.
It’s legal and how things work in most states because there is no regulation of towing fees. A 1995 federal law — the Motor Carrier Act — prohibits states from putting limits on towing charges.
While the federal law doesn’t allow governments to get involved in price setting, California and Florida lawmakers have set regulations that help keep towing fees in line. Glenn Neal, executive director of the California Trucking Association, 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.
Tow services in Douglas County must meet some basic requirements to get on the rotation list, but the county has no power to take a company off the list even if officials get complaints about service or fees, said County Administrator Craig Weinaug.
But when informed this week of the California and Florida laws, Weinaug said he was interested.
The concern is that some services may take advantage of motorists who are in stress following an accident. Few people have the phone number of their favorite tow company programmed into their cell phones, let alone know the going rate for a tow.
Perhaps patrol officers could have a card they could present to motorists with suggested questions to ask a tow company about cost and services before their vehicle is towed. That would lead to fewer surprises later when the motorist tries to pick up the vehicle.
But most important, Kansas should follow the lead of California and Florida to approve regulations to protect consumers who find themselves in need of a tow service.