Trucking industry fighting back against non-consensual towing

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- If you get into an accident, you're probably glad to see a tow truck pulling up to the rescue. While the vast majority of companies play by the rules, some don't.

Previously, FOX4 has exposed a company that has allegedly caused problems for drivers, by showing up at the scene without first being called by crash victims or an insurance company.

But over-the-road truckers say they are being impacted by predatory tow practices, too, and are hoping to fix the problem.

A crash involving a big rig can be terrifying.

"Trucks are going to be involved in accidents, regardless of who is at fault. And they need towing and recovery companies to come out there, clear the scene and do it professionally and do it safely," Mike Matousek said, manager of government affairs with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

And many times, that happens. But there's a shortcoming in how semi trucks get roadside recovery. Typically, police dispatch tow companies using a rotation list and truckers often have no say in hiring who hauls their rig away.

"Towing companies will come out and bill you for equipment that's never on the scene, that was never necessary to be there in the first place," Matousek said. "They will double or triple prices when it is a non-consensual tow."

While many cities around Missouri, including Kansas City, have rules regulating tow company operations for passenger vehicles, there are zero regulations when it comes to the towing of tractor trailers.

And the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association, based in Grain Valley, said that leaves a lot of room for price gouging.

"We're not talking about recovery bills that are inflated by a couple hundred dollars. We're talking about by bills inflated by thousands or tens of thousands of dollars," Matousek said.

OOIDA shared a bill with us that was sent by a Missouri tow and recovery business, after it had been dispatched by police to a semi-fire. The bill for clean-up and haul-away was more than $42,000.

"Almost nothing is stopping them. In fact, here in Missouri, there is no reasonable or effective recourse," Matousek said.

That's what OOIDA is hoping to change. It's supporting two bills before the Missouri legislature, which would regulate commercial towing, potentially set up penalties for breaking the rules, and give companies a way to fight exorbitant charges.

Similar laws are already in place in more than a dozen states.

"We're here to try and address, what even many in the towing industry agree, is a problem. These bills are getting worse every year," Matousek said.

To put this into perspective, high tow bills can jack up insurance rates for trucking companies and even put some smaller ones out of business. There is a trickle down effect, too. If the cost to operate and haul goods goes up, all of us can wind up paying more for things we buy everyday.

There is also hope that any protections for commercial vehicle towing, could ultimately help lead to further protections for passenger vehicle owners who are subjected to predatory or non-consensual towing practices.

The Missouri House version on regulating commercial vehicle towing recently had a public hearing.  The Senate version of the bill has been referred to the transportation committee.

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