Questions remain on Montgomery County predatory towing bill

WASHINGTON — A Montgomery County Council committee is weighing the pros and cons of a bill to curb predatory towing practices in the jurisdiction.

On Monday, members of the council’s Public Safety Committee said the bill needs more tweaking. Among other aspects, they still need to determine how much time can elapse before property owners can call for tow trucks. Then there’s the issue of “drop fees” — tow-truck drivers’ charges of $50 to release a car once it’s on the hook.

Some 30,000 vehicles are towed every year in Montgomery County, says Doug Numbers, an investigator with the county’s Office of Consumer Protection. “That’s an estimate,” he says, “but it’s an estimate coming from the police tow log.”

During the meeting, Councilman Tom Hucker recalled a resident’s account: One of his constituents said she ate at a Thai restaurant in Wheaton when a tow truck operator put a car on the hook. The motor was still running and the driver was still behind the wheel. “That’s the sort of thing we’re dealing with,” Hucker said.

Small businesses with parking lots complain about “walk-offs” — drivers who park in client spaces and go across the street to other businesses.  But Councilman Craig Rice asked what could be done about cars parked in residential areas that are towed prematurely when they have flat tires or need repairs, and the homeowner can’t afford to fix them right away.

“It’s those kinds of things we need to think about,” said Rice, calling those “real-world situations.”

Rice added that there should be a balance between the need to deal with a nuisance problem and automatically assuming a driver is “some sort of guilty party that’s trying to ‘get over’ rather than just trying to live their life.”

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.

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