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BALTIMORE -- Every year, millions of Americans have their cars towed without their consent from a private property or public street. Too often, the unknown rationale behind these tows and what to do next can leave drivers stranded and confused. While getting towed is a justified consequence of parking in the wrong place or for too long, most states don’t offer drivers basic consumer protections such as access to their wallets or medicine, or maximum rates for towing and storage. And, of course, there are times when drivers believe they have been towed improperly.
“In Maryland and across the country, consumers aren’t adequately protected from abusive and predatory behavior from towing companies,” said Emily Scarr, Maryland PIRG Foundation Director. “When your car gets towed, everything else grinds to halt. As our research shows, without proper protections an otherwise everyday hassle can become a massive logistical and financial burden.”
Maryland PIRG Foundation identified 14 common sense towing protections that should be available to consumers in every state. Our report, Getting Off The Hook of a Predatory Tow, outlines protections ranging from who is responsible for damages caused by careless towing, to the maximum rates and fees owed when towed, to whether you are guaranteed the option to pay by credit card.
According to our research, Maryland only fully provides 9 of the 14 common sense towing protections that should be available to consumers, and has much higher than average towing and storage rates.
Maryland is one of many states that have inadequate protections, or the laws on the books are vague and inaccessible to the average consumer. It’s important to note that some municipalities in Maryland have protections that are stronger than those offered by state law. Some cities across the country have even adopted a “towing bill of rights” to address years of abusive practices. This shouldn’t be necessary; drivers in every city in a state should have the same, strong rights.
In Maryland, here are the key takeaways:
- In the case of an involuntary tow, Maryland towing companies can charge twice the total fees allowed by the subdivision for public safety tows. If the subdivision has not set rates, towing companies can charge $250.
- In the case of an involuntary tow, towing companies can charge the fees normally set by the subdivision for storage. If the subdivision has not set rates, towers can charge $30 per day.
- After removing a vehicle, the tow company must notify the vehicle owner, insurer and law enforcement of the towing.
- If the vehicle owner returns before their car is towed, the tower must release it for a drop fee no greater than half of the intended towing cost.
- Towing companies must allow owners access to all personal items in a towed vehicle.
- If a vehicle tow is proven illegal, the owner is entitled to triple the cost of recovering the vehicle.
Improvements needed to Maryland statewide towing law:
- Maryland should set clear and reasonable maximum rates for involuntary tows.
- Maryland should set clear and reasonable maximum rates for daily storage for involuntary tows.
- Towing companies must be required to accept payment via credit card.
- Maryland should strictly prohibit tow trucks from patrolling streets or parking lots looking for cars to haul away.
- Towing companies should be required to provide itemized bills.
Maryland PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) Foundation is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful interests that threaten our health, safety, and wellbeing.
Your donation supports Maryland PIRG's work to stand up for consumers on the issues that matter, especially when powerful interests are blocking progress.