CHICAGO — Chicago is reigning in “rogue towers” by requiring a new tow truck drivers license to operate in the city.
City Council approved the measure Wednesday. The revised ordinance was unanimously approved in committee this month after being stalled in April even as supporters of the license described an industry that preys on auto accident victims.
Sponsored by Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), the new rules require tow truck drivers to qualify for a license and pay a $250 fee for each truck they own. Operators will need to seek a $750 license for their towing lots, as well, with the industry to be regulated by the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.
By licensing drivers, the city could keep track of who’s operating within the city and strip a license from those found to be violating other provisions in the ordinance, officials argued.
The ordinance prohibits tow truck drivers from stopping at or near the scene of an accident to solicit a tow, instead requiring drivers to wait for a call from a vehicle operator, their insurance agent or law enforcement.
Towers must keep records of towed vehicles, and “improperly towed vehicles must be released.”
Violators of the ordinance would be hit with fines ranging from $500 to $1,000 per offense, including operating without a license. Operators that falsely claim to be a government official or law enforcement could be slapped with up to a $20,000 fine.
“Whatever is currently in place is not working,” Villegas said in April.
Villegas revised the ordinance to grant an exemption to companies that have a city contract and required drivers to disclose felony convictions when applying for the license, WTTW reported. Previously, drivers would have had to disclose misdemeanor convictions as well.
During the April meeting, Villegas cited an incident last summer where a tow truck crashed into a CTA bus, leaving 6 people injured, before the driver sped away. Some towers show up to the scene of an accident ahead of emergency vehicles and convince vulnerable residents their insurance company sent the truck.
“Law enforcement has reported instances of gunfire between rival towing companies and incidents of arsons at tow storage facilities with clear elements of organized crime,” he said.
Keith Blair, of the Chicago Police Department’s major auto theft unit, told the committee towers monitor police scanners and show up to crash scenes ahead of emergency responders.
“When they are on the scene of accidents, they’re using any method necessary to try and obtain control of an unsuspecting victim’s vehicle and…then holding these cars hostage,” he said.
“In some cases, resident’s vehicles have been held at ransom,” Rosa Escareno, commissioner of BACP told the committee. “Owners are often forced to pay thousands to recover their vehicles. And in many cases, the vehicles may be left in random locations difficult for our investigators to also locate.”
“Today is the beginning of a safer and more accountable tomorrow,” Villegas said.
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