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Provincial government introduces legislation to regulate towing across Ontario.

Guest Contributor August 22, 2014
Blurred cars moving along a busy highway at sunset.

Today’s post comes to us care of Elliott Silverstein, Manager of Government Relations here at CAA South Central Ontario. Thanks Elliott!

Bill 15 was introduced in mid-July, but what could it mean for motorists and the towing industry?

Collisions can be a very traumatic and stressful time for motorists.  For many, their first priority is getting to safety and back home with their family and friends.  However, before they can do so, they must contend with the situation which may include working with a tow truck operator, visiting a collision reporting centre, and getting their vehicle to its final destination.  In some cases, the process can be quick and effortless, and for others it can be an additional stress following the collision.

Part of the challenge we face today is inconsistent rules and processes across Ontario.  Currently, there are roughly two dozen municipalities across the province with varying by-laws that set rules and regulations around tow trucks, with the majority of Ontario’s municipalities currently without towing bylaws. For motorists, it creates confusion depending on where a collision or breakdown occurs, as the costs and procedures can vary significantly.  Similarly, for tow truck operators, it means holding multiple licenses, and being compliant with the various rules in many jurisdictions regarding the handling of the vehicle, clean up, and more.

For over 20 years, there have been a series of calls to regulate the towing industry at the provincial level.  They include; coroner inquests, recommendations from an anti-fraud task force, stakeholder consultations and several private members’ bills at Queen’s Park, all aimed at trying to address the issues involving the industry.

On July 15, one day after Finance Minister Charles Sousa introduced the 2014 Ontario Budget, he stood in the Legislature and introduced Bill 15 – a combination of two prior bills – that focuses on reducing insurance fraud and enhancing tow and storage services.

CAA has been an active stakeholder in numerous discussions around towing regulation, addressing the subject from two unique positions – as an advocate for our Members/Ontario motorists, along with being an auto club that actively works with towing industry operators/companies.  From our perspective, Bill 15 features a number of progressive changes that would benefit consumers, but it is not without its challenges.

From a consumer’s perspective, the Bill, if passed, would:

  • Establish a Tow and Storage Consumers Bill of Rights
  • Require permission from a consumer (or permission from someone acting on the consumer’s behalf) before towing and storage services are charged
  • Enable motorists to pay for towing services electronically (credit card)
  • Require critical information like the name and contact information of the operator be displayed
  • Provide consumers access their vehicle to remove personal contents
  • Require an itemized invoice be provided, listing services provided, along with the total cost
  • Prohibit tow and storage providers from charging a higher rate for insurance companies or other third parties

Through Bill 15, the Government aims to initiate changes around training for tow truck drivers, while also including tow trucks under the province’s Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registration (CVOR) system.  One reason for including tow trucks under CVOR, where they are currently exempt, is to improve road safety through existing government monitoring and enforcement measures.

While Bill 15 includes numerous reforms that will benefit motorists who require towing services following a collision, the issue of CVOR in particular requires further discussions between government and industry stakeholders to ensure that any changes do not impose undue financial burden or adversely affect the industry, and ensure that services are available when needed.  CAA recognizes the important role that tow trucks have on Ontario’s roads, and we continue to advocate for both training standards and increased safety protection for those working in the industry and those receiving service.  The CVOR structure as currently defined in Bill 15 could impact how towing services are delivered in Ontario, and CAA looks forward to discussing this issue with government representatives in the near future.

New legislation that brings reforms to an industry will require those impacted to adjust to the emerging landscape, and for many towing businesses that currently aren’t subject to regulations, there will be adjustments.  As Ontario embarks on provincial regulation of the towing industry, the end goal should include at a minimum, a towing industry that is able to safely provide service on Ontario’s roads, consumers that have added protection to prevent fraud from occurring, and for the towing industry to continue providing an important service to Ontarians.