Tow Trucks Punish Drinkers Who Find Another Way Home

In Tampa, drinkers who’ve been parking their cars and finding sober rides home have had their cars towed away by predatory tow truck drivers.

What many bar and restaurant patrons don’t realize is that they’re protected by a consumer-friendly city ordinance, which is intended to deter drunk driving.

10Investigates found that very few people even knew that it existed, including property owners and the tow truck companies who’ve been making money violating it.

In an effort to dig deep into predatory towing, 10Investigates closely analyzed thousands of impounds in the Tampa region. The investigation revealed that by far, most of the cars towed in 2015 were from 533 S. Howard Avenue, near Tampa’s bustling nightlife district.

In 2015 alone, nearly 300 vehicles were towed out of the plaza, which is home to Koto Japanese Steakhouse, and $10 parking for anyone who wants to patronize SoHo’s other establishments.

Most vehicles were towed between 5 and 9 am, a few hours after most drinkers found a safe ride home.

10Investigates found that in almost every tow from that particular lot since the 2008 city of Tampa ordinance went into effect, was prohibited. Under the 2008 city ordinance, towing companies cannot tow vehicles from parking lots of restaurants and bars where people are allowed to consume alcohol on the premises.

The purpose of the ordinance is to give bar patrons who’ve been drinking the incentive to find a safe, sober ride home, so they can return to pick up their vehicles the following day before noon.

How effective is the ordinance if the public has no idea it exists and it’s never been enforced?

10Investigates learned that the wrecker operator patrolling 533 S. Howard Ave. didn’t know about it, and neither did the county’s Public Transportation Commission, or Tampa’s city staffers.

What does the city ordinance say?

Under the 2008 city ordinance, it’s unlawful for property owners or lessees who sell or let people consume alcohol on their premises to cause any vehicle parked on their property to be towed away between 9:00 p.m. and noon, unless the establishment provides a signed order of removal for the tow truck driver.

In other words, a property owner can sign an order to have a vehicle towed away, but tow truck drivers can’t go around patrolling bar or restaurant parking lots to remove vehicles on their own accord.

The catch is that not many people in Tampa know about this protection for bar and restaurant patrons.

In South Tampa where parking is costly, many people are afraid of having their cars towed away, and that plays a factor in whether they decide to drive home after a night of drinking.

We can safely assume that for every car that’s wrongfully towed away from 533 S. Howard Ave., there are dozens more people who drive home after drinking at one of the popular nightspots on Howard Ave. because they don’t want their cars towed away.

Fortunately 10Investigates has raised awareness about the 2008 city ordinance, and hopefully word will spread fast throughout the community, allowing drinkers to finally take advantage of their protections.

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