Hilton Head should get towing rules on the books

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Hilton Head should get towing rules on the books

Published Friday, January 13, 2012   |  587 Words  |  

Hilton Head Island should follow Beaufort County's lead and pass its own towing regulations.

The county, after reviewing ordinances in other communities, has put in place reasonable regulations to ensure that people whose vehicles are towed from private property are not charged predatory prices to retrieve their vehicles.

Hilton Head has had its own complaints about high prices to retrieve vehicles shortly after they've been towed from a private parking lot. One couple reported they had to pay $325 that same night to get back their vehicle after it was towed from a Main Street parking lot.

Town Councilman Bill Harkins hits the mark when he says a town ordinance should be fair and protect residents and visitors. It would bring a "sense of calm, reason and respect for all parties involved."

Councilman George Williams asked whether the proposed ordinance was "a solution looking for a problem."

It is not, and most importantly, it could help prevent problems.

Town officials first raised the possibility of towing regulations after the fatal confrontation between a tow truck driver and a man whose vehicle had been booted in a Bluffton area community in December 2010. They decided to wait for the county to finish its work.

The county's ordinance has been in place since June, and there's little reason for Hilton Head to delay further.

The 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 involuntarily.

If an owner shows up before the vehicle is hooked up to a tow truck, the charge is $75. If the owner arrives before the vehicle is hauled away, the charge is $100. 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 are aimed at preventing tow truck drivers from prowling communities for towing opportunities and should help prevent potentially dangerous confrontations between operators and upset vehicle owners.

A proposed town ordinance contains many of the same provisions. Town staff plans to get more input from towing companies, gated communities and the public before presenting a revised proposal to Town Council's Public Safety Committee.

Tommy Burrows, owner of Tommy's Towing in Bluffton, told the committee Monday that the rules should be fair and towing companies "have to be able to continue making a living."

Towing companies also indicated that the fee caps shouldn't be lower than the county's. The towing fee is capped at $200. Town staff has recommended that the fees be lowered to reflect that the towing companies are primarily doing business within the town. The county charges a slightly higher fee, the recommendation states, to account for the fact that the towing companies might be required to travel the entire county.

All of this can worked out, and the sooner, the better.