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Congress Gets Tough on Predatory Towing
Federal provision allowing states to crack down on predatory towing set to become law.

Rep. Chris Cox and President Bush
On Friday, the House and Senate approved a $286 billion transportation funding measure that the president has announced he intends to sign. The massive bill includes a small but significant reform allowing states to regulate "predatory towing" practices. The term refers to unscrupulous tow truck drivers who patrol parking lots and take cars for the most minor of violations -- or even no violation at all. Since they can reap hundreds of dollars in fees for each car removed, the goal of predatory drivers is to grab as many cars as possible in the least amount of time.

"No longer will... drivers walk outside to find that their car has been towed from the very location where they are legally conducting business -- by someone claiming immunity from our laws," said the measure's co-author, Representative Christopher Cox (R-CA). Cox will resign his congressional seat Tuesday to become chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The measure overturns the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Tocher v. City of Santa Ana decision which had invalidated state legislation requiring tow truck operators to obtain explicit permission from a lot owner before removing a vehicle. Cox became interested in the topic after a driver carelessly towed away a car that had a four-year-old child trapped inside. The Orange County, California District Attorney was unable to prosecute the tow truck driver under the Ninth Circuit decision.

Representative Jim Moran (D-VA), the bill's other co-author, has also heard an earful from constituents fed up with companies such as Frank's Towing of Arlington, Virginia. The city has battled the company in court for several years over allegations that the company seized legally-parked vehicles and charged illegal fees for their return. One victim was so fed up that he "towed away" the domain name and set up a site recounting in detail his unpleasant experience with the company.

"With Cox-Moran in place, states will have two new options to protect the consumer from abusive towing at their disposal," Moran said.

In addition to allowing states to require written permission or the presence of the lot's owner for each tow, the measure will also create a study to identify additional means to protect the rights of individuals whose motor vehicles are towed.

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