Created on Friday, 22 October 2010
Mark Richardson's opinion on regulations for the tow truck industry in Ontario is echoed by car dealers throughout the province.
His Wheels column on Oct. 9 discusses the efforts of Willowdale MPP David Zimmer, whose private member's bill is aimed at the aggressive and unethical activities of many tow truck operators working on Ontario's roadways.
Every day, many tow truck drivers persuade or intimidate drivers at the scene of an accident to sign waivers allowing their vehicle to be towed to a specific collision repair facility where the towing company may have a vested interest.
Usually, customers know little about the repair facility, relying on their insurance provider to sort matters out. Some of these same tow truck drivers will even "sell" the job to a competing repair facility for a percentage of the anticipated repairs.
Consumers face outrageous fees to have their vehicles towed, impounded or stored, then re-towed — unaware of additional charges and often without their consent. These costs are likely burdened by the insurance companies, and are reflected in higher insurance premiums.
Obviously, reliance on local municipalities to regulate this industry does not work. Each municipality has towing bylaws and regulations, most of which are not enforced due to a lack of political will and human resources. Tow-trucks licensed by one municipality often operate with impunity in another.
These abuses continue to thrive and multiply because policing authorities have given up trying to enforce the myriad of differing by-laws (if any) by which municipalities are supposed to regulate their approved towers.
This is especially evident on the 400 series of highways. We have all seen these "accident chasers" lurking beside or near the highway, waiting to pounce.
The Toronto Automobile Dealers Association has long advocated for stricter regulation of the tow truck industry. Our association does not understand why the province has not yet acted to protect consumers from the form of extortion outlined in Richardson's article.
Ontario already regulates or allows self-regulation of motor vehicle repairers, motor vehicle dealers, school bus operators and commercial trucks and their drivers.
The province is also responsible for driver and vehicle license registration, the regulating of speed limits, signage, lighting and policing of major roads and highways.
Today, anyone with a "class G" driver's license can operate a tow truck and tow a vehicle up to 4,600 kg or 10,141 lbs. with no mandatory provincial training and no standardized background checks
Provincial standards and regulation of these "highwaymen" could include the creation of a special category of driver's license. The province could issue this "tow truck" licence to those that meet set qualifications to ensure protection for consumers.
There could also be a special tow vehicle permit, requiring a substantial surety or guarantee, posted with the regulator by the tow vehicle owner. This would be used for consumer indemnification for proven abusive practices. (Most tow drivers do not own the truck that they are operating.) Policing agencies would be required to enforce the regulations.
Today, our service departments are often charged huge fees for a short haul before the driver will "drop" the customer's car for repair. Often, the tow bill on a vehicle involved in a collision exceeds the cost of the actual repairs. These practices are unconscionable and should not be allowed to continue and these first steps would begin to force unscrupulous operators off the roads.
There are many honest tow truck operators in Ontario and Mr. Zimmer's bill is not aimed at them. Rather, it's meant to eliminate the bad apples who tarnish this industry. Moreover, it will introduce regulation to business practices that are rife with abuses. We support his efforts.