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Motor Insurance
Sunday, January 1, 1989
Sticker them up!

“Unscrupulous tow-truck operators are ripping off motorists,” says Harry Pretorius, GM emergency road services of the Automobile Association (AA).
It is apparent that certain tow-truck operators are towing away vehicles from the scene of accidents without permission from the owners. Some so-called pirates even stoop so low as to coerce drivers who are still in a state of shock to authorise them to tow their cars away.
There is no laid down cost structure so they tend to charge an exorbitant price for this “service”. Some operators are allegedly using illegal electronic equipment to intercept emergency police and ambulance calls so they can beat competitor towing firms to the scene of an accident. Many of the operators are in cahoots with panel beaters. It is not unheard of for a car to be towed away with initial accident damage, but when recovered to have sustained further damage.
The AA has taken a positive step in curbing the activities of tow-truck piracy. In March 1988 it introduced the use of a sticker which bears the words, “Do not tow unless by arrangement with the AA.” The sticker was made available to all AA members, with instructions to put it on their cars.
This enables the owner to express where he wishes his car to be taken and by whom. If the sticker is ignored, the owner has every legal right to repudiate liability for any charges arising from the unauthorised removal of his vehicle.
To protect its policyholders, Mutual and Federal (M&F), in conjunction with the AA, has also now offered this service. It sent out stickers to policyholders on the Ref and will soon extend this service to other major centres. In the event of an accident, the policyholder has only to contact the AA, who will send either its own tow-truck or an operator from an appointed towing company. M&F has arranged with the AA for the vehicle to be taken to an M&F “safe yard”. This will prevent pirate operators not only from removing the vehicles, but also from damaging them further.
The sticker must even be adhered to by traffic officers. An officer is only empowered to make sure the vehicle is removed if it is creating a hazard. But he may only order that it be moved to the side of the road, and not towed away.
Mr Pretorius says that there are certain weaknesses in this system. The most obvious is that the sticker is not always put on the car. In this case the owner has absolutely no protection. Another weakness is that the shrewd operator can actually remove the sticker. In this case, says Mr Pretorius, “The onus lies upon the owner to prove that the sticker was in fact displayed.”
There have only been a few cases where vehicles have been towed away by pirate operators even when the sticker was displayed. But once the AA intervened, the cars were very quickly released with no additional charges.
Errol Lambrechts, chairman of the South African Towing and Recovery Association (SATRA) says, “We are losing a fair amount of business because of the bad publicity that pirate operators have given the industry.”
He adds that, “Because the AA has appointed certain contractors to deal with its members, it has also deprived certain companies of income.”
As for the AA offering this service to other short term insurers for its policyholders, Mr Pretorius says that the association intends looking at the possibilities in the New Year.

Copyright © Insurance Times and Investments® Vol:2.1 1st January, 1989
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