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Unauthorized tow truck solicitations at crash scenes in Lakewood are now banned, thanks to a slight amendment to an ordinance that Lakewood's Township Committee quietly snuck in after introducing the proposed ordinance using less strict wording.

There are numerous tow truck operators in Lakewood and its surrounding area.

The Lakewood Police Department provides official authorization to only some of these tow truck operators (Acme Towing, Barina Automotive, Barina Autobody, Freedom Towing, Tilton Bodyworks, and Total Transport) to come to crashes and tow crashed cars. The contracts for these authorized tow truck operators rotate on a weekly basis.

The other tow truck operators are "non-authorized" and are not dispatched directly by the police department. Instead they listen to the crashes on their emergency channel scanners, rush to the scene and attempt to solicit their business from the drivers of the crashed vehicles.

Township officials have received numerous complaints from emergency responders including police officers and Hatzolah members that these tow truck operators cause ruckus on the scene for the emergency responders as well as the crash victims, including by soliciting tows from victims in ambulances.

From a review of the Township Committee meeting minutes over the past number of years it appears that this is not a new issue in Lakewood as it has been discussed before, however, now, at the request of local emergency responders, the Township Committee has cracked down by tightening their Tow Truck Operations ordinance.

The original ordinance reads:

Nothing in this section shall be construed so as to prevent any owner of a motor vehicle from calling any tower or wrecker of his own choice.

However, if the tower or wrecker designated by the owner or operator of the motor vehicle is not immediately available or cannot respond in a timely manner, the tower or wrecker designated on the revolving list established herein shall be utilized.

As previously reported here, back in November the Committee introduced an Amendment to this Ordinance as follows:

Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent any owner or driver of a motor vehicle from calling any tower or wrecker of their own choice for a disabled vehicle on the roadway not involved in a motor vehicle accident.

However, if the Police Officer at the location of the disabled vehicle has safety concerns regarding the location of the vehicle or the towing service requested cannot respond within a timely manner, the Officer may supersede the owner's desires and call a tower based on the Police towing rotation list. Once the vehicle has been removed from the roadway and deemed safe by the Police Department, the owner can make arrangements to move their vehicle.

It shall be unlawful for any person to interfere with medical or patient care or a police investigation
of a motor vehicle accident or emergency situation on a roadway within the Township of Lakewood.

Additionally, the New Jersey Predatory Towing Act prohibits "cruising" or trolling. This State law does not expressly define these terms.

The Township ordinance has its own definition of "cruising".

The original definition of "cruising" was "the operation of an unengaged wrecker along the public streets in any fashion intended likely or calculated to solicit business".

The introduced version ordinance amended this definition to say "the operation of an unengaged wrecker or person soliciting a tow or repair on Township roadways interfering or hindering with a Police Investigation roadway or street within Lakewood Township in any fashion intended to or likely to solicit business."

However, at the final meeting of this year which took place last week, the Committee voted on second reading on a slightly changed version of the Amendment which used the following wording:

Cruising shall mean the operation of an unengaged wrecker or person
1. soliciting a tow or repair on Township roadways in any fashion intended to or
likely to solicit business; or
2. who interferes or hinders with a police investigation or medical treatment.

The new version of the Amendment to the Ordinance also prohibits as follows:

The practice of cruising is forbidden. Furthermore, no person shall pay any gratuities, fees, gifts
or other compensation to any third person not involved in the accident for information as to the
location of any accident.

Each and every person or entity violating this provision shall, upon conviction, be subject to up to 90 days in the county jail, 90 days of community service or a fine not to exceed $2,000.

Committeeman Meir Lichtenstein did not abstain on voting on the Ordinance despite that he is a captain of Hatzolah and Hatzolah was involved in the efforts to get the Ordinance passed.

It appears from the amended wording "for a disabled vehicle on the roadway not involved in a motor vehicle accident" that the Township intended to completely ban unauthorized towers from responding to crashes, and to permit them to respond only to disabled vehicle scenes.

Additionally, just in case this new wording didn't do this job well enough, it appears from recent crashes that the police department is using the wording of the final version of the Ordinance "Cruising shall mean the operation of an unengaged wrecker or person ... who interferes or hinders with a police investigation or medical treatment" to mean that as long as a police officer determines that the wrecker's presence on scene is "interfering or hindering", such presence is completely illegal.

This use of this ordinance sharply limits the ability of unauthorized towers to stay in business.

In order to become an "authorized tower" and get dispatched by the police department (instead of getting banned from the scene under the ruse of "interfering or hindering"), the Township requires towing operators to have a current business license and certain insurance coverage, as well as to own or lease a "secure, adequately lighted, separately fenced or enclosed storage area for the safe storage of a minimum of 50 towed vehicles, located within the Township." This storage area is to be used exclusively in connection with the licensee's towing operations. The fenced-in enclosure shall be six feet in height and be of durable materials, sufficient to obstruct the interior of the secured premises from public view.

In order to be able to timely reopen the roads and free police department resources, towing operators shall arrive at the scene to which they are dispatched within 15 minutes of receipt of the call, weather permitting.

Additionally, the towing operators are required to respond and tow, by police department dispatch, "impounded vehicles involved in criminal transactions" and have access to "an indoor storage area for the storing of such vehicles."

Tow truck operators are required to be open for business for releasing vehicles to the public, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Curiously, "each wrecker, while on duty, will be responsible for changing tires on police vehicles at any time when required to do so and can pick up the tires at Police Headquarters. This service will be performed free of charge."

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