New measures by the province to protect motorists from opportunistic towing operators are a step in the right direction but it will make time to get disreputable “chasers” off the road, says Jeff Walker, President and CEO of CAA North & East Ontario.
As of January 1, 2024, towing operators and storage facilities must follow new rules, which include being licensed by the province, clearly displaying the company name and certificate number on tow trucks and obtaining written consent before towing.
The rules in the Towing and Storage Safety and Enforcement Act (TSSEA) are in place to ensure unscrupulous tow operators and their drivers do not inflate fees and misrepresent services to stranded motorists. This replaces a patchwork of municipal bylaws across Ontario.
The TSSEA arose after several incidents of insurance fraud, inflated invoices, stunt driving and threatening or intimidating behaviour by “chaser” tow operators towards customers and legitimate operators. (“Chasers” are defined as tow operators who use various methods to scan for breakdowns and collisions, then use pressure and intimidation to force stranded motorists to use their services, often at inflated rates.)
Mr. Walker says that while the new rules are welcome, it will take some time to take bad actors off the road. CAA North & East Ontario regularly hears from Members about incidents involving chasers misrepresenting themselves as CAA or aggressively attempting to tow a stranded vehicle.
For instance, the new code of conduct says consumers must sign a “Consent to Tow” form that respects the provincially mandated maximum rate. In its fight to combat predatory towing, the province will be rolling out other tools in early 2024, such as an online portal with every tow operator’s maximum rate amounts and a public complaints portal.
“In the past few years, the towing industry has been marred by disreputable actors attempting to take advantage of consumers in vulnerable places during times of stress. The Province of Ontario has taken on the regulation of the industry from municipalities, and while this will help enormously, we know that bad actors don’t play by the rules,” he says.
“We hope the days of consumers having taken vehicles hostage when drivers are broken down on the highway, using inappropriate tactics to take them, misinforming drivers and demanding outrageous amounts of money to release them will soon be over.”
CAA North & East Ontario has mounted an education campaign for its Members and the public about how to protect themselves during an unexpected roadside incident.
“Provincial regulation is a major improvement on the piecemeal approach we’ve been dealing with from the municipalities, but it’s going to take a while before the process is perfect. In the meantime, it’s absolutely essential that the public and CAA Members are protected through education and advocacy,” says Mr. Walker.
Key tips for CAA Members:
- During a roadside incident, unless your vehicle is in harm’s way or live traffic, stay in your car and keep in touch with CAA via text, the CAA Mobile App or CAA Service Tracker.
- CAA Members will be given the name of the towing operator or driver during the service call. The CAA tow driver will also be given the name of the Member.
- Look for the tow certificate number on the truck, which must be visible and in a contrasting colour.
- Motorists must now be given a “Consent to Tow” form, but do not sign it unless the rate and services are clearly indicated. CAA Membership is exempt from this requirement.
- Tow operators must now take multiple forms of payment, cannot insist on cash only and must issue an itemized receipt upon payment.
- If a tow truck insists on moving a vehicle without permission or the express instructions of police overseeing traffic, immediately call the authorities.
- Vehicle owners must be notified if the tow operator takes it to a location other than the agreed upon destination.
- Tow operators can no longer solicit other services, such as vehicle storage or repair garages. Tow truck drivers and operators must disclose any benefit they receive for providing referrals to a person, business or facility.
Read more about the TSSEA changes and consumer rights here: caaneo.ca/towingrights