Pretoria - Tow truck operators provide a valuable service to the motoring public; they're often the first to arrive at the scene of a crash, assist injured road users and have been known to direct traffic.
Police and traffic officials also provide a towing service to road users involved in crashes.
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However, with corruption and malpractice rife among government officials, it can be difficult to resolve road crash issues in the shortest and most efficient time possible. Not only are the officials guilty of this but sadly, some motorists encourage this behaviour by offering officials bribes to 'ease' the process.
According to Arrive Alive: "It is not just illegal but bypassing the system and not allowing the law to take its course can, involuntarily, lead to the death of seriously injured victims."
Tow truck companies will often refer motorists to certain workshops for repairs, says Arrive Allive. This is not always due to high quality of service but because tow truck companies receive commission for jobs referred.
SA motorists involved in crashes should not be forced into making ill-considered decisions. Even though many operators might arrive at the scene of a crash the motorist has the right to choose who should assist in the recovery of the vehicle.
The National Road Traffic Act 93 of 1996 stipulates in Section 61(3) that "…no person shall remove a vehicle involved in an accident, except for the purpose of sufficiently allowing the passage of traffic, without the permission of the owner, driver or operator of such vehicle or a person who may lawfully take possession of such a vehicle."
The South African Towing and Recovery Association (SATRA) and UTASA (United Towing Association of South Africa) believes the industry needs to be regulated. According to Arrive Alive: "Anybody can buy a one-ton truck, turn it into a tow truck and start operating."
Have you experienced unscrupulous tow truck operators in SA? Perhaps you've received excellent service from a tow truck operator or company? Share your story with us.
12 tips for dealing with tow truck operators
1. Only use the services of the first SATRA or UTASA member to arrive at the scene of an accident. You have the right to choose to use a SATRA or UTASA member, who is bound by a contractually enforceable code of conduct, and protects you, the consumer, from being charged above market related rates.
2. If your vehicle is insured, contact your insurer or broker and ask for information on the procedure to follow – have this information available in your vehicle at all times.
3. If you have insurance cover that includes towing charges, call the emergency towing assistance number (usually on a sticker provided by the insurance company).
4. The roadside assistance services provided by automakers and cellular service providers have additional costs associated. If you purchase a new car or cell phone contract and roadside assistance forms part of the deal, make sure you are not paying extra for it if you already have this service.
5. If you make use of a roadside assistance product, make sure you know your rights: in almost all cases you or your insurer will be liable to pay the costs of towing an accident-damaged vehicle.
6. Make sure that the damaged vehicle is delivered to a repairer approved by your insurer or, if you are not insured, make sure to collect your vehicle as soon as possible to prevent the accrual of storage charges.
7. When dealing with recovery companies, always establish the amount to be charged for all aspects including towing, salvage and storage fees.
8. Get as much information about the tow operator as possible before you agree to the recovery - name of company, driver, and registration of tow truck, physical address and phone number (preferably not a cell phone).
9. Always agree on towing charges before your vehicle is towed or you might be in for an unpleasant surprise.
10. Do not sign anything unless you have read through all documentation first. If the tow operator insists, make sure that it is ONLY an authorization to tow the vehicle.
11. Remove all valuables from the vehicle before it is towed away for repairs.
12. If you are an Automobile Association member, contact the AA to arrange the tow. The AA uses only certain towing companies that comply with a code of conduct and service levels. You also have recourse if something goes wrong.
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Responsibilities of the South African Police (SAPS)
To gain clarity on this the industry body UTASA approached the SAPS. The response is in agreement with what the sentiments of UTASA are and could assist towards ensuring compliance and preventing possible arrests going forward.
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A letter, issued by the South African Police Service, highlights local law enforcement's role in towing vehicles.
It reads: "The South African Police Service is responsible for the removal of a vehicle involved in a road crash if -
(a) a person was killed;
(b) a person was seriously injured;
(c) the driver was arrested for driving under the influence of liquor or a drug having a narcotic effect; or
(d) the vehicle was somehow connected with the commission of an offence."
The letter adds: "Police officials at the road crash scene may not directly contact service providers for the removal of a vehicle from a road crash scene The relevant radio control centre or central command centre will dispatch a contracted service provider if a vehicle needs to be removed to a police facility.
"Police officials at the road crash scene may not advice the owner of the vehicle, owner's immediate family or any other person who may lawfully take control of such vehicle of which service provider to use to remove the vehicle."