You are driving home late one night, sober and awake. It is drizzling and the road is wet. Keeping your speed below normal and taking a familiar turn your car starts sliding. Your air bag deflates slowly and you see that you have mounted the sidewalk and come to rest against a traffic light. Before you can get out of your car two sets of flashing lights skid to a halt next to you. With a sigh of relief you prepare to explain your predicament and thank the traffic officers and rescue services for their prompt response. A face appears at your window and says; “Sign this”.
Welcome to the cut throat mafia like world of the towing operator.
The above scenario happened to a family member recently. I was witness to how one tow truck operator hissed; “Ek gaan jou kry jou f*ken rubbish” to his competitor who was awarded the tow by the insurance company. I remain convinced to this day that both operators had staked out this section of road that had become slippery as a result of the light rain and oil on the road. The jury is still out on whether the rain raised the oil from the road surface or was deliberately poured – nice way to do business, guys.
Some accident breakdown operators do operate in an ethical manner and one that I spoke to recently said; “I feel it is very important that the public be informed of their rights! If an accident victim is taken to hospital, it is correct for the traffic authorities to take the vehicle their pound. Police and traffic, can ONLY authorise for the vehicle to be removed off the roadway, but NOT to be towed to a private tow company yard!” and directed me to the AA advice below:
Because towing rates are not regulated in South Africa, motorists should be aware of the following:
- Accident tow rates are higher than mechanical breakdown towing rates and are charged for any insurable risk where damage has been caused to the vehicle, either due to criminal activity or an accident. Quotes can range from R1,000 to more than R5,000 for an urban accident tow irrespective of distance, which could be two blocks or 20 km.
- Be aware of the additional charges that can be added to your towing bill. Storage fees at a tower’s yard are charged on a daily basis and can mount up quickly at over R100 per day. Additional charges are sometimes reflected as recovery costs, administration costs, security costs or with some other label that you could find difficult to challenge. Your R2,000 tow could soon end up at R6,000 and growing.
- Beware the tower who offers you a free tow. No one works for free and the costs will be passed on to you in some form at a later stage, and at a rate you did not negotiate.
- Not all towing operators are unscrupulous
- While it is true that there are many unprincipled tow truck drivers out there, many towing operators do still offer a valuable service.
- To avoid unreliable operators, be aware of some of the ways in which you can be fooled at a time when you are angry, disoriented and not thinking clearly.
You can avoid a bad situation by taking note of the following:
- Tow truck drivers are often paid on an incentive basis and therefore will want to persuade you to allow them to tow your vehicle.
- Tow truck drivers might have an affiliation to a panel beater which could influence their behaviour in relation to the towing destination, despite your clear instructions in this regard.
- Ensure that you receive a towing slip; this is a receipt for your vehicle. When signing a towing slip ensure your vehicle details are filled in correctly. Check that the tow destination is filled in with the address you want your vehicle taken to. Make very sure that the agreed-upon towing rates are filled in. Ensure that the tow truck driver’s name, company and tow truck registration details appear legibly on the towing slip. Look out for the tow truck driver’s signature on the towing slip – it must be there.
- Remove all valuables from your vehicle before towing – don’t forget items in your boot such as laptops and smaller items such as sunglasses and CDs.
- Ensure that non-removable items and accessories such as CD shuttles and expensive mag wheels are listed on the tow slip. Also include the make of the tyres and spare wheel.
- Do not let anyone call your service provider or insurer on your behalf. You won’t know if the person on the other end of the line, authorising your tow, is legitimately from your insurer or service provider unless you make that call yourself. Therefore, ensure that you have the relevant numbers on you or in your vehicle.
- Do not be swayed – make your own call to your service provider or insurer.
- Wild stories have surfaced of tow truck drivers using cellphone jammers at accident scenes, being in possession of police radios and creating road conditions to promote accidents. Whether these allegations are true or not, be vigilant. If you are suspicious of any activity of this nature, report it to the authorities.
Don’t get hitched: Always be prepared
You are not obliged to accept a tow from any towing company that arrives on the scene. The traffic officers attending the scene of an accident have a duty to keep traffic flowing as best they can under the circumstances, but are not permitted to dictate to you which towing service you should use.
The National Road Traffic Act 93 of 1996 and the National Road Traffic Regulations published in Government Notice No R.225 of 17 March 2000 stipulate the regulatory requirements for the towing of vehicles. The act states that ‘…no person shall remove a vehicle involved in an accident, except for the purpose of sufficiently allowing the passage of traffic, without the permission of the owner, driver or operator of such vehicle or a person who may lawfully take possession of such vehicle.’
This Act empowers a traffic officer to have your car moved off the road if it is obstructing the flow of traffic. Be careful to select the correct service provider as, once hooked, there have been reported cases where the tow truck driver then refuses to unhitch the vehicle and when denied the onward tow, demands the full price of an accident tow for the five metres the car was moved to the side of the road.
Traffic officers have a duty to keep traffic flowing, but are not permitted to dictate to you which towing service you should use.
The do’s and dont’s at an accident scene – Suggestions to protect your interests
- Do not admit liability
- Do not sign any documents presented to you
- Report the accident to the nearest police station within 24 hours and obtain an accident reference number
- Do not take any intoxicating liquor or drugs, especially if you are injured or in shock, unless you are instructed to do so by a medical practitioner
- Take down as many details as suggested under the Collision Report section of this article
- Complete the towing slip diligently
Remember the one golden rule – most towing operators are there to complete a business transaction first, they are not responding to an accident scene for altruistic goals but to make money so beware of slippery sales tactics.
(Portions of the above are courtesy of the AA)
Related Link: List of Motor Vehicle Breakdown and Accident Towing companies in Port Elizabeth.