When it comes to trade industries, most of us assume that there are licenses and regulations that workers have to follow and abide by. And for the majority of trades we would be right but there are still some professions where it’s a genuine free for all, people are bullied away from jobs and threatened into leaving the trade altogether. One such industry is the world of towing.
For as long as we’ve driven vehicles, and for as long as we will continue to, we will have a need to tow trucks. We find ourselves with dead batteries, flat tires, losing our keys, in accidents and breaking down on the side of the road. For any number of reasons anyone who drives a car will probably need a tow truck driver at some point in their life. When we call a towing company and they dispatch a truck to our location we are trusting that the driver who arrives will be honest and professional, since we’re dependent on them to not only drop our vehicle off at a repair shop but also to possibly get us home safely.
One specific area where the situation is seriously escalating is the world of accident towing. Within Ontario, the rule is that the first tow truck to the scene of the accident is the one that gets the tow. This seems fair and honest, but in reality it’s causing tow truck drivers to race to the scene of accidents under unsafe driving conditions and putting the public at risk. What’s worse is that drivers are getting into verbal and physical altercations at the scene as to who is entitled to the business, some even going so far as to draw guns to threaten each other.
Drivers who have just been in an accident are scared and vulnerable, they want to make sure no one is seriously hurt and they aren’t typically concerned about their vehicle. Corrupt tow truck drivers are taking advantage of drivers in this state and using it to their advantage. Additionally, these towers are taking the opportunity to recommend certain repair shops or physical therapy practices drivers can use after an accident. What drivers don’t know is that some towers are getting kick backs for the amount of business they bring in, sometimes they even own the repair shop they’re recommending under as a subsidiary of the towing company.
If you have insurance, though, why does it matter? Well these repair shops are turning around and charging insurance companies horrendous repair and impound fees, sometimes even holding the vehicle “hostage” until the insurance agrees to pay whatever they demand. Some tactics include misplacing keys, dropping a vehicle at the back of the lot behind a mount of other vehicles and claiming they don’t know where the vehicle is just to increase the number of days they can charge impound fees for.
In the long run, if insurance companies have to pay out more to fix your vehicle and get it back to you then that price will be transferred on to other consumers and you, eventually. Some insurers have taken these corrupt towers and repair shops to court, suing for criminal practices. There has been a mixture of results: sometimes the insurance companies win and sometimes they don’t.
So how do we fix this? How do we make sure that those tow truck drivers who are honest and legitimate, who aren’t taking advantage aren’t being run out by the criminals? The executive director of the Canadian Towing Association believes this is an industry that should be regulated – much like electricians or plumbers. While the majority of towing companies out there have training and some background checks, there isn’t any kind of a standard so there’s really no way to know exactly who is working as a tower.
Currently just under 4% of the municipalities across Ontario have any kind of licensing for a company to operate tow trucks. Some towing companies try to avoid any kind of problems by declining any kind of accident tow and only doing contract or long-distance towing, but that doesn’t mean the criminals aren’t trying to intimidate them.
Ontario’s larger cities could take a lesson from the city of Montreal. This city got rid of their first to scene rule, and replaced it with a much safer system. Within the city, if someone is in an accident the police department has a list of pre-screened towing companies they call to come and tow away the vehicles, if needed. The drivers and companies on this list have undergone extensive background checks and the system eliminates the notion of accident chasing because even if a truck is first to scene they likely won’t be awarded the tow. The city, overall, has seen a decrease in the amount of criminal activity surrounding accident towing.
While this system works the city of Montreal, the Deputy Inspector-General, Michel Forget, emphasizes that without industry management or the police force regulating who tows the vehicles, this industry is ripe for criminal activity to grow. This situation is not unique to the bigger cities of Ontario and it could happen anywhere, though the large majority of corrupt towing practices are being seen in and around the GTA.
One of the biggest concerns is that consumers don’t really give the towing industry much thought, until they find themselves in need of a tow truck. Since consumers aren’t really aware of their rights and what’s happening with accident chasers, they aren’t thinking about this when allowing a tow truck to load their vehicle. The best thing we can do, collectively, to prevent the spread of this criminal activity is understand what our rights are as drivers and be aware of who we are giving our vehicle to. It can be really difficult to focus on those details especially when you’ve just been in an accident but if we can all work together to make sure we are aware of who is taking our vehicles, and knowing our rights then we can hopefully prevent the spread of corrupt towing practices.
Give Tow Truck Scarborough a call if you are looking for a reputable towing provider in Scarborough and the GTA.