The Week's Features
Tow Expo Dallas' winning trucks are highlighted
Towman Scott Shover is being called "a guardian angel"
Redi-Letters' lighted signs easily mount on wreckers
Suspending auto repos of clients impacted by Hurricane Harvey
Or, do government controls actually work?
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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingSeptember 13 - September 19, 2017

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Light-Duty nonconsensual tow rates as provided by Police Towers of America.

No Tolerance for Gouging

money 73 11843By Randall C. Resch

Tow companies are constantly in the media's cross hairs, accused of intentionally stacking charges by inflating an invoice's bottom line. Since the inception of rotator services, it's not uncommon to see invoice totals that range upwards to $50,000.

In one particular scenario, a tow company was suspended from a law enforcement contract because of alleged gouging. A vehicle's owner complained that a company's tallied fees were excessive for a tow that (he says) took no more than 40 minutes and was only a few miles from the tow company's yard. The tow company's owner responded by saying the fees may have been a mistake, and he made it right by lowering the bill. By lowering fees after a complaint was initiated, doesn't that suggest a certain level of culpability by the tow company?

A southern California tow company transported an off-duty police officer's wrecked vehicle a short distance and charged highway patrol rates. When the off-duty officer arrived at the tow company's yard a couple of hours later, he was handed a gigantic bill. Because the off-duty officer was there at the accident scene, he knew that an additional truck and driver weren't there, he knew there was no need for stand-by time, excessive labor, additional mileage, flares and absorbents, even dollies. Most damaging was that his wrecked vehicle was transported on a carrier and the tower actually drove the damaged vehicle onto the carrier. A subsequent complaint was filed with the agency's tow boss, leading to a surprise audit a week later. The audit eventually determined that other invoices substantiated intentional gouging resulting in them being terminated as a rotation tower.

These types of complaints plague the towing and recovery industry. When tow operators get paid straight commissions, adding charges is a typical way to bolster commissions. Typically, when tow company staff enters job information into the company's computer, tow company owners don't see what is entered. Ultimately, if owners don't review invoices for accuracy, jobs that may have been inflated oftentimes make their way to unsuspecting customers.

Owners: To say, "I didn't know," is not a defense.

And, because there's an earned distrust between insurance companies and tow company invoices, the industry has experienced a difficult road-to-hoe because of padding and stacking false charges on invoices.

Because invoices don't write themselves and are the product of mandatory office administrations, responsibility to demand accuracy in billing begins with the company's individual stand on honesty, reputation, and fair play to not get caught up in dishonest fees and charges.

Owners can't review every invoice or computer entry, but they will have to defend the company's reputation. Owners can set the tone of accuracy by training and demanding that your personnel only specify honest charges and fees approved by the agencies you serve.

I fully support tow companies being paid for the work they've done or services they've provided, but when false charges or fees are added and work hasn't been done ... that's nothing less than committing fraud. Tow companies should be required to openly submit to periodic audits of collected invoices. Companies that truthfully and honestly conduct work and services should be paid.

Center-Divider U-turns

UTurns 45518By Randall C. Resch

Flatbed carriers are lengthy and difficult to maneuver in U-turns (the operator typically must use several traffic lanes to make careful approach into openings of center dividers). U-turns are especially dangerous and typically banned by many states because of increased accident risk to motorists.

Completing a full U-turn requires that opposite lanes are clear of approaching traffic prior to tower's driving into opposite-side traffic lanes. With traffic at speeds of 80 mph, impact is imminent. More importantly, towers oftentimes forget that the carrier's deck remains in traffic lanes.

In May 2010, a Florida Highway Patrol investigation stated a flatbed carrier operator attempted to make an illegal U-turn in a center-median opening of the Florida Turnpike. The tower allegedly slowed to prepare for the U-turn in the center median, yet the carrier's deck was hanging in southbound traffic lanes. As a result, a following motorist hit the carrier's deck causing their van to roll. The motorist was killed; the tower was not injured.

In January 2014, a carrier operator allegedly attempted to make a U-turn in the center divider of Hawaii's Pali Highway. Per Hawaii law, U-turns in center dividers and medians are prohibited. A news account of the accident reported the tower slowed in traffic (near the fast lane) and entered the U-turn opening. While waiting for approaching traffic to clear, an elderly motorist hit the carrier from behind, shearing the roof off their vehicle. The impact caused the Toyota Yaris to spinout and it came to a stop on an embankment. The tow operator pleaded no-contest to causing the crash.

In investigations where vehicles are hit from behind, it's commonly thought that the striking motorist is at fault. Considering traffic moving at speed, a following motorist may not see the back end of the carrier protruding into traffic lanes after it crosses lanes. Obviously, center-divider openings aren't all that wide, requiring lengthy vehicles to swing wide to complete the turn. When viewed from varying angles, a flatbed carrier could be nearly invisible to following drivers.

In June 2015, California approved Vehicle Code Section 21719. (a) "Use of Shoulders by Tow Trucks," as being a necessary component of incident response. For tow trucks and flatbed carriers to lawfully use emergency shoulders, U-turn openings on California highways demanded specific wording. I've included the entire code for using shoulders, where allowable use of U-turn openings is covered. (Note: California tow trucks are not considered first responders.)

"Section 21719. (a) Notwithstanding any other law, in the event of an emergency occurring on a roadway that requires the rapid removal of impediments to traffic or rendering of assistance to a disabled vehicle obstructing a roadway, a tow truck driver who is either operating under an agreement with the law enforcement agency responsible for investigating traffic collisions on the roadway or summoned by the owner or operator of a vehicle involved in a collision or that is otherwise disabled on the roadway may utilize the center median or right shoulder of a roadway if all of the following conditions are met:

"(1) A peace officer employed by the investigating law enforcement agency is at the scene of the roadway obstruction and has determined that the obstruction has caused an unnecessary delay to motorists using the roadway.

"(2) A peace officer employed by the investigating law enforcement agency has determined that a tow truck can provide emergency roadside assistance by removing the disabled vehicle and gives explicit permission to the tow truck driver allowing the utilization of the center median or right shoulder of the roadway.

"(3) The tow truck is not operated on the center median or right shoulder at a speed greater than what is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and the surface and width of, the roadway, and in no event at a speed that endangers the safety of persons or property.

"(4) The tow truck displays flashing amber warning lamps to the front, rear, and both sides while driving in the center median or right shoulder of a roadway pursuant to this section.

"(b) For purposes of this section, "utilize the center median" includes making a U-turn across the center median."

California's law is specific for use of shoulders and center-divider U-turns. This training topic demands towers understand the full meaning and requirements of their own state's laws. The key here is "authorization." Remember, although you may have permission by the requesting agency to use either, you are completely responsible for safe-vehicle operations. U-turns on high-speed highways is a dangerous practice. My best advice for safety to all: drive to the next exit for return.
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WreckMaster President Justin Cruse said that the WreckMaster Convention will bring together towers from all over North America to provide a unique and beneficial opportunity to broaden knowledge.
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