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CLEVELAND -- Driving is picking up again as the number of Americans heading to social gatherings, vacations and in-person work moves closer to pre-pandemic norms. More driving means more parking – maybe in unfamiliar areas.
Parkers have always run the risk of getting towed. But a new trend exacerbates that risk: Towing companies are giving private property owners kickbacks when the landowner notifies the companies about vehicles to tow -- whether the vehicle is defying parking regulations or not. Our new analysis, Getting Off the Hook of a Predatory Tow Part II, an update to our comprehensive 2021 report on towing protections in every state, finds that only 16 states currently ban kickbacks, as others are considering such laws.
Meanwhile, towing is on the rise. The industry is expected to take in $11.3 billion in 2022, an increase of 10% from 2020, according to the industry research firm IBISWorld.
“Banning kickbacks should be a no-brainer,” said Teresa Murray, Consumer Watchdog with U.S. PIRG Education Fund. “Kickbacks give people incentives to get vehicles that aren’t breaking any rules towed. Why would we incentivize that?”
While no state has passed new consumer protections against predatory towing in the last year, Colorado and other states are considering new laws. And there has been progress at the local level, where municipalities are passing more laws against these abusive practices.
“Every state can -- and should -- do more to protect drivers from predatory towing,” said Murray. “The stories we’ve heard over the last year from consumers who’ve had to pay exorbitant fees or whose cars are towed to a lot an hour away are shocking. Until more states pass protections, we need cities to continue to plug the gaps.”
Overall, 13 states still don’t require a towing company to even notify the vehicle owner or driver that their car has been towed or where it’s being stored, so many people, returning to find their car gone, might think it was stolen. And 46 of the 50 states don’t require a towing company to photograph the vehicle before it’s towed, to document the claimed violation.
“Towing regulations should make sense innately,” Murray said. “It’s OK if drivers face consequences for parking improperly on someone else’s property, but no one deserves to be wrongfully towed, or face unfair fees or other abusive practices even if the tow was justified.”
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