Municipalities should move on establishing towing rules

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Municipalities should move on establishing towing rules

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Published Thursday, July 21, 2011   |  477 Words  |  

Hilton Head Island and other Beaufort County municipalities should follow the county's lead on towing regulations.

In June, the county finalized reasonable rules for towing vehicles from private property without the owner's consent.

The county's ordinance sets limits on how much a tow operator charges and makes it easier and less punitively expensive for owners to get back their vehicles after they've been towed.

The push for towing regulations came from a deadly confrontation in December between a tow-truck driver and a man whose vehicle had been immobilized because it was parked on a street in Edgefield, a community that doesn't allow on-street parking because of its narrow roads.

Hilton Head officials are preparing to take up the issue, perhaps as soon as next month. Like the county, town officials should involve tow operators in the process of drafting an ordinance.

The rules should take into account operating costs for tow truck operators, but it should not allow them to exploit a captive market. When a vehicle is gone, the owner must pay up -- no matter how unreasonable the fee -- or he won't get back his vehicle.

We like the county's lower charges if an owner shows up before the vehicle is hooked up to a tow truck ($75) or before the vehicle is hauled away ($100).

And we like its prohibition against immobilizing a vehicle. Booting a vehicle does nothing to keep private streets and parking lots free of illegally parked vehicles.

Regulations also should allow owners to get back their vehicles as quickly as possible without towing companies running up storage fees.

The county's ordinance states that storage fees cannot begin until 12 hours after the vehicle has been brought to the tow company's lot and caps them at $40 a day.

The ordinance requires private parking lots to clearly post "no parking" signs that include the phone number to call to get a vehicle released.

When a towing company is under contract with a property owner, it must obtain written authorization from the owner or a manager for a specific tow. And where there is private security, the security people must accompany the towing company to the vehicle and remain until the vehicle is towed.

Those measures should prevent tow truck drivers from prowling communities for towing opportunities, and it should help prevent potentially dangerous confrontations between operators and upset vehicle owners.

It also ensures that those who hire towing companies know what's going on in their communities.

We're confident Hilton Head officials can come up with rules that make sense for the community, keep private streets and parking lots free of illegally parked vehicles and establish due process for people whose vehicles have been towed.