ATRI Analysis Looks at Predatory Truck Towing
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Nearly 30% of crash-related heavy truck towing invoices included excessive rates or unwarranted additional charges, according to a new comprehensive truck towing analysis by the American Transportation Research Institute.
The ATRI report, “Causes and Countermeasures of Predatory Towing,” made public on Nov. 29, took a deep dive at a long-festering controversy within the trucking industry. Focused on towing practices from 2021-2023, the goal of the study was aimed at improving the relationship between the towing and trucking industries.
The most common types of predatory towing were excessive rates, experienced by 82.7% of motor carriers, and unwarranted extra service charges, experienced by 81.8% of carriers, the study said.
“A majority of carriers encountered additional issues such as truck release or access delays, cargo release delays, truck seizure without cause, and tows misreported as consensual,” the report concluded.
“Predatory towing is a costly issue for motor carriers as well as compliant towing companies, and it has been overlooked for too long,” said Shawn Brown, Cargo Transporters Vice President of Safety, and former chair of ATRI’s research advisory committee. “With reliable data analysis and a thorough regulatory review, ATRI’s report sheds light on the sources of the problem and paths forward for addressing it by both regulators and trucking fleets.”
There are two major categories of heavy-duty towing — consensual and nonconsensual, ATRI said. Consensual towing occurs when a vehicle owner, or any other person who has legitimate ownership or control over the vehicle, requests a T&R company’s services of their own volition.
The other category, police-initiated crash/disabled vehicle towing — occurs when a truck has been involved in a crash or is disabled and interfering with traffic flow or public safety. In these cases, police take control of the scene and call towing services for the vehicle.
The issue of excessive towing charges has become a hot-button topic for motor carriers in recent years. One 2021 case reported by Transport Topics and highlighted in the ATRI analysis involved a Wisconsin motor carrier who was hit with a $202,000 towing and removal bill after one of its tractor-trailers hauling a truckload of cheese had to be pulled from a ditch on I-64 in central Virginia.
Rising towing costs have for several years been on American Trucking Associations’ radar.
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“The trucking industry knows that predatory towing and excessive pricing or creative billing are problems, but there’s never been a comprehensive look at these issues until now,” said Mike Matousek, director of ATA’s government freight conference. “There’s a ton of information for the industry to review and consider in ATRI’s report, but this is something that every carrier should become familiar with — especially the state-by-state compendium of towing regulations.”
For its study, ATRI surveyed 350 motor carriers, who were asked to identify which of eight primary types of predatory towing they had experienced, and to rank them based on their impact on operations. Predatory practices are listed in rank order from most to least impactful, with the percentage of carriers that experienced each issue at some point included in parentheses:
- Excessive hourly or per-pound rates (82.7%)
- Unwarranted additional equipment or labor charges (81.8%)
- Excessive daily storage rate (77.7%)
- Vehicle release delays or access issues (71.7%)
- Cargo release delays (61.6%)
- Vehicle seizure without cause (55.7%)
- Tow operators misreporting nonconsensual tows as consensual (53.5%)
- Damage due to use of improper towing equipment (59.2%)
ATRI said the towing and recovery industry is highly localized, reflected in the fact that most T&R-related regulations generate from municipalities and county governments. But some states are taking action.
“Within the past few years Maryland, Arizona and Colorado have all passed statewide laws regulating the T&R industry,” ATRI said. “Maryland directly addressed the concerns of motor carriers when it passed House Bill 487 in 2022. For police-initiated towing, the bill outlawed per-pound billing, created guidelines to allow for the release of cargo, and established a committee that would recommend rates for heavy-duty T&R and handle invoice disputes.”
ATRI said other states have not been as successful in their efforts to regulate the T&R industry. In 2021, Missouri’s governor vetoed House Bill 661 on the grounds that it over-regulated the market. Had the bill passed, it would have established a committee to determine reasonable rates for T&R services and to review complaints regarding the nonconsensual police-initiated towing of commercial motor vehicles.
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