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A Potential End To 'Predatory Towing' In D.C. Region?

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D.C.-area lawmakers want to change the way towing is regulated in order to reduce "predatory towing" in the region.
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D.C.-area lawmakers want to change the way towing is regulated in order to reduce "predatory towing" in the region.

The federal highway bill slowly making its way through Congress includes a small provision many drivers in the D.C. suburbs may appreciate: It concerns so-called "predatory towing," a practice that infuriates thousands of drivers in the region every year.

Drivers affected by it say that if they park illegally for, say, a quick trip to the store, they can end up paying $150 or more to retrieve their car after it is towed.

Under the federal highway bill, local governments would be allowed to regulate towing. Many already do now. Take Maryland's Montgomery County, which has unsuccessfully tried to crack down on the rampant towing in its business districts for years. The new bill would make that authority official, giving local governments legal protection.

Eric Friedman, head of Montgomery County's Office of Consumer Protection, says a loophole in a 20-year-old federal law allowed towing companies to get aggressive in moving cars from forbidden parking lots, and governments were left with little to do about it.

"There have subsequently been Supreme Court cases that say local jurisdictions can regulate in terms of towing," Friedman says. "But there is some language still in the law we want to [clear up] so that no creative attorney thinks there is some confusion."

Friedman says towing is by far the No. 1 complaint his office receives every month. So it's not a great surprise that two congressmen from the D.C. area — Democrats Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Don Beyer of Virginia — added the towing provision to the bill.

A towing incident in Arlington even made national headlines earlier this year. ESPN reporter Britt McHenry was caught on tape berating an employee of a company that had towed her car. She was briefly suspended from her job.

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