Create a free Overdrive account to continue reading

Say no to 'legalized theft': More states should act to rein in rampant abuse of nonconsensual tow fees

Greg Fulton Headshot

Several months ago, one of our member companies received a bill where one of the individuals listed on it was billed at a rate of $250 per hour, and another one at $350 per hour. You might think that these individuals were high-powered attorneys, doctors or senior managers in a corporation. But they weren’t. The billing was for a tow truck driver and safety official for a nonconsensual tow of a tractor-trailer. 

To add some perspective to this, the average hourly rate for a tow truck driver in the state where the tow occurred is a little over $21. The rate on the bill for the tow truck driver was 10 times greater than the average hourly rate for such a driver. 

The likely reality is that neither the tow truck driver nor the safety person received anywhere close to the hourly rate on the bill -- rather, it’s conceivable the greatest part of the amount went straight into the pockets of the tow company itself.

To add insult to injury, the tow company itself charged $350/hour for the truck. This translates to an overall hourly cost of $600/hour for one truck, with the driver. After totaling up a variety of inflated costs, the tow bill for this one incident exceeded $50,000 for a little more than eight hours of work. 

This is not meant to be disrespectful of tow truck drivers or towing companies who provide a vital service to the public. The majority of these companies are reputable operators, but as in other industries, there are exceptions where businesses take advantage of a situation.

Most states have a rotation for tow truck operators called out on short notice to clear incidents on highways in the state. Tow truck companies must apply to be on the rotation. These tow truck operators are ordered into service by law enforcement in response to an accident or disabled vehicle that may pose a safety problem or adversely affect traffic flow. These tows are defined as nonconsensual, because the owner of the damaged truck has no say in who the towing operator is or what rate or price will be charged for the service.

Being on the rotation is not a right under the law, but rather a privilege extended by the state providing the company the sole ability to provide the service for those incidents. 

The Business Manual for Owner-Operators
Overdrive editors and ATBS present the industry’s best manual for prospective and committed owner-operators. You’ll find exceptional depth on many issues in the 2022 edition of Partners in Business.
Partners in Business Issue Cover