- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 13, 2005

Towing companies in Virginia and other states will be subject to closer scrutiny under a measure passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

In addition, Virginia lawmakers will be conducting a sweeping study of the towing industry in the coming year after receiving numerous complaints from localities about questionable towing practices.

U.S. Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, pushed for more regulation of towing companies after hearing numerous complaints from motorists and officials in Arlington and Fairfax counties.

The companies have gone without federal or state oversight since 1995, leaving localities “powerless to adequately punish bad actors and institute regulations to deter these predatory towing activities,” Mr. Moran said.

The federal government in 1995 eliminated the Interstate Commerce Commission, which provided federal oversight of the towing industry. Localities are allowed to regulate towing prices, but not industry practices.

“The lack of legal clarity has created an environment in which rogue elements in the towing industry have engaged in price gouging and other worst practices,” he said.

His measure, co-sponsored by Rep. Christopher Cox, California Republican, would apply to all states and the District of Columbia. It overwhelmingly passed the House as an amendment to its transportation bill Thursday and will soon be considered by the U.S. Senate.

The measure allows states to require towing companies to have written permission from a property owner before towing a vehicle off the property. It also allows states to require property owners to be present when a vehicle is being towed.

This “does not solve all problems related to predatory towing operators, but it is a step in the right direction,” Mr. Moran said.

Towing and Recovery Association of America officials said federal regulations will not solve the problem of a few rogue companies.

“It is an overreaction to some isolated incidents,” said Bill Giorgis, president of the association. “It doesn’t fix anything.”

Mr. Giorgis is working with Mr. Moran and Mr. Cox to come up with a solution the association can support.

Northern Virginia has been plagued for years with towing problems.

Mr. Moran said that in Arlington County alone, more than 280 complaints were lodged in the past two years.

State Sen. Jay O’Brien, Fairfax Republican, sponsored the Virginia study after hearing from an angry motorist, whose car was towed from a lot where no signs were posted.

The Virginia study will be completed before the next General Assembly session begins in January and will offer recommendations for regulating towing prices, signs and other practices.

“Everyone agreed it’s about time the General Assembly take a close look at towing,” Mr. O’Brien said.

Mr. Cox said the lack of regulation has led to serious problems, including a recent incident in Orange County, Calif., in which a tow truck driver accidentally towed a car that had a sleeping toddler in the back seat.

“Local law enforcement agencies report that in many such cases, a victimized motorist is conducting business at the very location from which the car is towed,” Mr. Cox said. “The vehicle owner walks outside, the car is gone without a trace, and the driver embarks on an arduous, confusing and costly journey to recover the car.”

George King, the owner of Frank’s Towing, has been fined many times for purportedly overcharging customers in Arlington. He said localities have not adjusted prices in 12 years to account for the increased cost of towing a vehicle.

He supports the Virginia study because he believes it will help his industry charge fairer rates and to take on more legitimacy.

“There is a stranglehold on our business, and we have to keep up with the times,” he said.

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