WASHINGTON — The federal government is working to shield truck drivers from predatory towing fees.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) expressed strong support for trucker protections against these costly fees in a comment filed on the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) proposed rule banning junk fees.
FMCSA’s comment notes that predatory towing junk fees “significantly increase costs for commercial motor vehicle owners and operators.”
The comment also offers support for the proposed ban on hidden and misleading fees and urges the FTC to consider additional restrictions against the types of unnecessary and excessive mandatory junk fees plaguing truckers.
“When a truck driver’s vehicle is towed, they can’t earn a living until they get it back — leaving them vulnerable to predatory junk fees from towing companies,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “We support FTC’s efforts to stand up for truckers by acting to ban junk fees and prevent predatory towing fees that can cause significant financial harm.”
Towing can occur at the request of the trucker after a breakdown, or at the request of law enforcement or a property owner if the vehicle has been parked illegally.
In either case, towing causes substantial distress for truckers who are unable to earn a livelihood until they can regain access to their vehicle, a news release states.
“Once their vehicle has been towed, truckers are in a very vulnerable position and highly susceptible to predation,” according to the news release. “FMCSA is concerned that predatory towing companies can and do use their possession of the vehicle as leverage to prey upon truckers who are in no position to push back.”
While there are a wide range of predatory tactics associated with towing, a number of them center on the mandatory or otherwise unavoidable fees that towing companies charge.
FMCSA’s comment outlines several potentially unfair or deceptive fee practices used by predatory towers. These include hiding fees until the tow is completed, charging for unnecessary or worthless services and imposing an excessive number of fees for excessive amounts. These predatory fees can add up to thousands of dollars for truckers.
In October, the FTC proposed a ban on junk fees that would prohibit businesses from charging hidden and bogus junk fees by requiring them to include all mandatory fees when quoting a price.
“FMCSA believes that predatory towing fee practices fall within the purview of FTC’s proposed rule, which would greatly benefit truckers if finalized,” the news release states.
In its comment to the FTC, FMCSA expresses strong support for the “important protections and offers suggestions for additional restrictions that would further help protect truckers from predatory towing junk fees.”
These suggestions include:
- Ban junk fees for unnecessary goods or services — FMCSA suggests adding a provision that prohibits companies from charging any fee for an ancillary good or service that has no value, costs nothing extra to provide, or that reasonably would be assumed to be included in the upfront price of the good or service. For example, towing companies often charge “equipment fees” for using equipment that they already own and use routinely to provide the towing service.
- Prohibit or restrict excessive junk fee practices — FMCSA encourages the FTC to consider prohibiting or imposing restrictions on excessive fee practices. These practices include charging an excessive number of fees, charging excessive amounts for a fee, or charging variable fees for fixed costs. The provision on excessive fees could focus on consumers who have little to no ability to avoid, negotiate, decline, anticipate, or limit the number or cost of the fees, or consumers who are vulnerable, in distress, or otherwise limited in choice by their circumstances.
- Treat each illegal junk fee as a violation — FMCSA suggests that the final rule treat each illegal junk fee as a separate violation and that the rule expressly prohibit companies from charging or collecting mandatory fees that are not appropriately disclosed, are not included in the total price, and/or cannot be fully calculated upfront.
“Predatory towing negatively impacts consumers, including commercial motor vehicle drivers and trucking companies,” said FMCSA Acting Deputy Administrator Sue Lawless. “It is detrimental to the overall health of the trucking industry, and it’s time to end excessive rates, surcharges and other unfair fees associated with predatory towing.”
Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and raised in East Texas, John Worthen returned to his home state to attend college in 1998 and decided to make his life in The Natural State. Worthen is a 20-year veteran of the journalism industry and has covered just about every topic there is. He has a passion for writing and telling stories. He has worked as a beat reporter and bureau chief for a statewide newspaper and as managing editor of a regional newspaper in Arkansas. Additionally, Worthen has been a prolific freelance journalist for two decades, and has been published in several travel magazines and on travel websites.