It's rare that the needs of the public, businesses and government happily coincide in policy that benefits all. Harford County's new auto towing regulations appear to represent one such instance.
Towing companies will be licensed and called to respond to accidents on a rotating basis by the sheriff's department. Also, their vehicles will be inspected. Service will be monitored by an appeals board, which will also set maximum rates. Police agencies will not have to worry about which towing company to call and then face subsequent charges of favoritism of certain companies.
The towing companies complained that they had an image problem. They were concerned about the allegedly unequal distribution of calls by police to tow disabled cars in accidents. The towers said they were too often viewed as vultures and price gougers by accident victims with no option to call another towing firm. Sometimes, there were disputes at the accident scene about which truck could get its hook on the dead vehicle.
Public complaints about service and charges were piling up in various county offices, none of which had jurisdiction. One woman was charged $75 for a two-mile tow. Other hapless victims were socked with extra fees to tow a vehicle from a distant storage yard to the tower's office. The sheriff and police wanted better security for stored wrecked vehicles.
Under the system, about two dozen towers will pay $100 for an annual license and $50 per truck. That puts them on the rotating call lists, which are split into five districts to ensure quick response time. Trucks are checked for safety, the firms for facilities and criminal record. The appeals board hears complaints and can suspend or revoke licenses.
The system applies only to accidents where a police officer is called. Motorists call their own tower or road service for breakdowns or other auto problems. Harford municipalities are expected to cooperate with the county system, as are State Police (outside of Interstate 95 incidents).
The regulations may appear to be unimportant for the average motorist -- until he or she is caught up in the trauma of a disabling accident. Towers say they hope their performance in such emergencies will give them some repeat business from satisfied customers.
That's one prospect, however, where the towing companies and the public don't share a common hope.