Hamilton police are encouraging the city to pass a bylaw regulating tow truck fees to reduce the number of "chasers" who prey on motorists at the scene of car wrecks.
The city is examining a bylaw that would limit the amount tow truck drivers could charge motorists. Hamilton Police Service thinks that's a good idea that might prevent drivers from falling victim to services that overcharge, said Superintendent Ken Bond.
"A chaser is somebody who shows up at an accident and solicits the motorist who's involved and needs their vehicle fixed," Bond said.
Sometimes they hand the motorist a card offering a deal at a garage, he said. Other times, the driver or insurance company is charged exorbitant amounts for the tow.
"We've heard stories where somebody's had a tow from the 403 on a snowy night and charged $600 for a half-hour tow," Bond said.
Police contracts with towing companies cost a maximum of $160
The price is unwarranted. Police have contracts with 13 towing services where the tow costs a maximum of $160, Bond said. Storage costs $35 per day at the company compound. So there's no need for tow truck operators outside of that arrangement to arrive at accident scenes.
Often, body shops and chasers are working together, Chief Glenn De Caire told the police services board at a meeting Monday. And motorists may not see the bill directly. Often it is sent directly to insurance companies.
The city established a bylaw in 2002 prohibiting soliciting for towing or repair services within 200 metres of an accident scene. In 2012, two charges were laid under the bylaw.
The new bylaw proposes attaching standard fees to towing services, which De Caire and Bond support.
Winter is prime season for 'chasers.'
It wouldn't eliminate chasers altogether, but "complaints from citizens and insurance companies would be minimal," De Caire wrote.
Chasers used to hear about collisions on police scanners, Bond said. With the signal now encrypted, they find out through other means, such as a network that includes taxi drivers and other people on the road.
"It's not an official network, but it's out there," Bond said, who added that it will soon be prime season for chasers.
"Any time we get snow or bad weather, we see more accidents, and that's what results in it."