Report examines predatory towing practices, suggests countermeasures

Updated Dec 5, 2023
Cover of ATRI report on predatory towing practices
American Transportation Research Institute

Cover of ATRI reportAmerican Transportation Research InstituteHaving a roadside equipment failure or even a minor accident is distressing for even experienced professional truckers and the companies for which they drive.

That angst can often be compounded when they get the bill from the towing and recovery company sent or summoned to the scene. Increasingly some drivers and carriers are paying excessively high rates and are subject to the growing issue of predatory towing practices.

 The American Transportation Research Institute today released a new report that examines the causes and countermeasures of predatory heavy-duty towing. A statement from ATRI said the goal of the new research is "improving the relationship between the towing and trucking industries." 

According to ATRI report, the most common types of predatory towing were excessive rates, experienced by 82.7 percent of motor carriers, and unwarranted extra service charges, experienced by 81.8 percent of carriers. A majority of carriers encountered additional issues such as truck release or access delays, cargo release delays, truck seizure without cause, and tows misreported as consensual.

ATRI's analysis of crash-related towing records found that 29.8 percent of invoices include excessive rates or unwarranted additional charges. The leading causes contributing to this total were miscellaneous service charges (found in 8% of invoices), administrative fees (found in 6.5% of invoices), and equipment rates (found in 6.3% of invoices).

The patchwork of municipal, county, and state regulations that currently govern towing is often insufficient to prevent predatory activities, said ATRI. The report includes an online compendium of state towing regulations and describes key areas to improve the coverage and application of regulations to close existing loopholes.

Additional analyses and interviews with legal experts outline strategies that motor carriers can use to avoid, identify, or address predatory towing, such as how to review invoices for predatory billing and how to gather data to dispute towing companies’ incident accounts when necessary.

“Predatory towing is a costly issue for motor carriers as well as compliant towing companies, and it has been overlooked for too long,” said Shawn R. Brown, Cargo Transporters vice president of safety. â€śWith reliable data analysis and a thorough regulatory review, ATRI’s report sheds light on the sources of the problem and paths forward for addressing it by both regulators and trucking fleets.”

A copy of this report is available on ATRI’s website here.