There’s a scam going on in Douglas County, and local government officials need to do something to end it.
A recent article in the Journal-World detailed how a Eudora resident unexpectedly was hit with a $1,110 towing bill for simply towing a wrecked mini-van a total of six miles.
The woman’s mistake? She assumed all local towing companies essentially are equal. They are not. There are many fine, reputable towing companies in Lawrence, but there are some that make a living by presenting exorbitant, after-the-fact bills to individuals who made a quick, unresearched decision at the scene of an accident.
Thus far, local government officials have done far too little to educate the public about the finanical dangers posed by unscrupulous towing companies.
It is public servants — often police officers or sheriff’s deputies — who arrange for a tow truck to come to an accident scene. The normal procedure is for the officer to ask whether the motorist prefers a certain towing company. If the motorist doesn’t, a Douglas County dispatcher simply calls the next towing company on a rotating list regardless of what that company will charge.
How hard would it be for a law enforcement officer to give a laminated sheet to the distressed motorist listing the telephone numbers of area tow companies? The sheet could include some wording that suggests it would be a good idea for motorists to call several tow companies and ask what they would charge. The sheet could note that there is a wide range of charges, with some bills averaging more than $150 per mile.
Or, better yet, the county could require any towing company that wants to be dispatched by the county to provide a per-mile estimate of towing costs. A list of those estimates could then be given to motorists. This is similar to a policy instituted by the city of Wichita. (By the way, a Wichita police spokesman estimated a six mile tow in Wichita would have cost $164, not $1,110.)
County officials have been aware of this towing problem for some time. Now, it appears, the Douglas County Commission will have a discussion in the near future about possible solutions.
In the past, county officials have said their hands are tied, citing federal regulations that prohibit local governments from placing limits on tow companies or deciding which companies can be placed on the county dispatch tow list.
All that is accurate, but none of it prevents the county from combating this problem with information.
County commissioners should become the champions for creating a system that puts information into the hands of motorists who are vulnerable to being ripped off by opportunistic towing companies.
It is no longer acceptable to hear the county’s hands are tied on this matter. It is time for our public servants to take some positive steps to solve the problem.