After at least a dozen truckers, hauling critical items, complained they are being targeted by “predatory” towing companies in the Queen City, a half dozen state lawmakers now pledge to take action following a series of FOX 46 investigations.
“I am appalled,” said Rep. Rachel Hunt (D-Mecklenburg), after viewing reports from Charlotte-based FOX 46..
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein is investigating 11 towing-related complaints in Charlotte. Truckers say overly aggressive towing companies are unfairly targeting them to make money. Instead of asking them to move, drivers accuse tow companies of booting them instead – while they are still inside the truck - then demanding around $3000 to remove or fork over $5000 or more if they can’t and the truck is towed.
“It was like extortion, you know, I mean it was like highway robbery,” said Cynthia Baker, who had to pay $5000 after her driver’s truck was towed. “A scam in the middle of the night.”
On Tuesday, Rep. Wesley Harris (D-Mecklenburg) called the reports “a travesty” and said he would look into what can be done. Now, at least a half dozen other state lawmakers say they want to take this up as well when the General Assembly returns next week.
“I’m pretty disappointed in these towing companies that are using this as an opportunity to boost their bottom line,” said Rep. Christy Clark (D-Mecklenburg).
Clark wants to hear guidance from Stein’s office after his investigation is complete. For Rep. Chaz Beasley (D-Mecklenburg), it’s personal.
“I come from a family of truck drivers,” said Beasley. “My grandfather was a truck driver for decades.”
Beasley calls what’s happening to truckers “unacceptable” and says FOX 46 investigative reporter Matt Grant’s reports could get results in Raleigh.
“It’s really, really frustrating to hear these stories,” said Beasley. “This virus is starting to show the things that we need to look at more deeply and the things that we need to fix in our laws. And this seems like one of them.”
Among the ideas lawmakers are proposing:
Legislation preventing towing companies from using a state of emergency to bolster their bottom line.
- More protections for essential workers, like truck drivers.
- Mandating clearer and more prominent warning signs.
- Capping towing fees.
- Creating more public parking spaces.
In 2014, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled municipalities can’t cap how much tow companies can charge on private lots. Lawmakers are looking at the current towing laws to see what, if anything, can be done.
“I’m going to ask someone today to start looking into this,” said Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union), “to see if legislation is necessary and appropriate and what we can do to help these folks.”
Horn says is he concerned about potential unintended consequences of any proposed legislation but has instructed staff to look into the issue before lawmakers return to Raleigh next week.
Towing companies often blame truckers for not obeying posted warning signs. Now, lawmakers are sending a warning of their own.
“Now that you’ve alerted several of us, we will all work together with our friends on the other side of the aisle,” said Hunt. “And we will definitely make this not happen anymore.”