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Martinez proposes tougher regulations for tow truck drivers

Friday, September 26, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Austin City Council Member Mike Martinez on Thursday announced plans for an update to the city’s regulations for wrecker drivers. Noting numerous incidents of improper towing, Martinez wants to strengthen the punishment for wrecker drivers or towing companies found to be violating the law.


Martinez told his colleagues and the audience, “And in the interest of full disclosure, I was illegally towed two weeks ago.”


“What we’re finding is some tow truck drivers and some tow truck companies are thumbing their nose at the ordinance and finding loopholes,” Martinez said. Those violations, Martinez said, include posting improperly worded signs that fail to properly warn drivers or towing for non-existent infractions. “They create their own signs…and craftily word these signs to allow them the opportunity to tow people,” Martinez said. “It’s illegal for them to make their own signs and there are statutory requirements as to what a tow sign must say.”


For those companies and tow truck operators who violate the rules, Martinez wants serious consequences. “We need to suspend their license, we need to fine them,” he said. “We need to make full restitution to the folks who get their cars towed. This is $200 dollars a pop and with over 3,300 tows in August alone, that’s half-a-million dollars. It’s become predatory.”


While regular visitors to City Council meetings will recognize many of the concerns voiced by Martinez as similar to those expressed by Pat Johnson periodically during citizens’ communications, Martinez said his interest strengthening the regulations was prompted in part by an incident that occurred during the recent Bat Fest downtown.


“In one case, a tow truck operator assaulted a driver,” Martinez said. A videotape of the incident shows the aftermath of a car owner being hit with pepper spray. A driver for Assured Towing is shown in the tape arguing with several bystanders, brandishing the can of pepper spray, while witnesses call 9-1-1. Another wrecker driver from the same company attempts to comfort the man who was pepper-sprayed, offering him a bottle of water to help flush the irritant from his eyes.


The original tow truck driver can be heard telling bystanders that his company has a contract to tow vehicles from the lot. However, the witness who shot the videotape explains that the lot has been rented for the evening and they do have permission from the owners to park there. “This guy said ‘I rented this entire parking lot, please leave my car alone.’ The tow truck driver pulls out a can of mace and maces him right in the face,” Martinez said.


Towards the end of the videotape, several Austin police officers arrive and attempt to resolve the situation. A third wrecker driver details a litany of complaints against car owners and others on the lot, telling the officer that one person “put his hands on my truck” and another person “put his hands on me”. He concludes that “my driver gives him three warnings to back up before he gets maced…he maced him because he won’t get out of my face and he put his hands on me.”


The tape also shows the officer explaining the city’s regulations to the three tow truck drivers. “If there’s a contract or not a contract…the ordinance says any time there’s a dispute, if there’s a conflict…you’re supposed to call the police,” he said.


Martinez said an assault charged had been filed in connection with the incident.

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