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Archive for Sunday, April 22, 2012

Informed choice

Douglas County officials should move ahead on a plan to give consumers the information they need to make a wise towing decision.

April 22, 2012

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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.

Comments

Mollie New Leaf 1 year, 12 months ago

Here's an idea: Call around for estimates ahead of time and save the number of the best two in your phone. Don't have the police call for you. Yeah, it would be great if there wasn't a scam that takes advantage of people who don't know better, but until then this is a solution for anyone who can take the time and effort to browse through the companies ahead of time.

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sierraclub 1 year, 12 months ago

And I thought it was because you were gone every Tuesday.

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Bulldogtow 1 year, 12 months ago

The rotation list is VOLUNTARY and therefore is NOT included in the federal Deregulation laws. This has been upheld in courts in many states. Douglas County has been advised of this. All they have to do is say Accident hook-ups are $200. Milage is $4 mile. Etc.... then if a towing company wants to sign up and do accidents at that rate they are put on the list. If not then the person can call them direct. But if it is a non-preferance private tow or accident it is done under the pre determined rates. That is the simplest and safest way to do it. If a company goes outside those rates on a non preferance they are removed from the rotation for a year, then permermenatly if they do it again. PROBLEM SOLVED. No list that can be changed or charges lied about just to get the call and changed once the car is towed, no questions about what the prices are. It's a done deal and very easy to do. IF the county really wants to fix this. But i think they would rather just sit around and pretend if they dont regulate it, they are not responsable for what the companies do, and they are wrong!

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middlet0n 1 year, 12 months ago

I think this is a great idea, as I have been saying since this happened, "how can the police truly be of assistance if they are not giving out all the information?"I trusted since the police were involved that there was a sytem in place.

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