News & Updates

CHP CLARIFIES NEW CELL PHONE PROHIBITIONS

cellphone
Since California’s law prohibiting cell phone use while driving was amended last year with AB 1785, there has been some confusion about which devices towers are allowed to use while driving. The towing industry has worked with the CHP to help identify the parameters of Vehicle Code 23123.5. Accordingly, the CHP has notified their enforcement personnel, as well as updated their Highway Patrol Manual, about the following clarifications:

California’s cell phone law (Vehicle Code section 23123.5) prohibits the use of a wireless telephone or electronic wireless communications device while driving, unless:
The device is mounted to a windshield, dashboard, or center console in a manner that does not interfere with the driver’s view of the road, and;
The driver’s hand is used to activate or deactivate a feature with a single tap or swipe of the driver’s finger.

California’s cell phone law (Vehicle Code section 23123.5) applies to the following devices:
A handheld wireless telephone
A broadband personal communication device
A specialized mobile radio device
A handheld device or laptop computer with mobile data access
A pager
A two-way messaging device

California’s cell phone law (Vehicle Code section 23123.5) does not apply to the following devices:
Manufacturer-installed systems which are “embedded in the vehicle”
A radio installed and mounted in a vehicle with a wired hand microphone (e.g. business band or citizen band [CB] radio)

As further history, California law prohibiting all drivers from using a handheld wireless telephone originally went into effect on July 1, 2008. Originally the law provided an exception for those operating a commercial motor truck, including a tow truck, to use a two-way radio operated by a Push-to-Talk feature. However, that exemption expired effective July 1, 2011. The law was expanded effective January 1, 2009 to also make it an infraction to write, send, or read text-based communication on an electronic wireless communications device while driving. The law was further expanded effective January 1, 2017 to address the use of GPS and other apps while driving, by requiring that all handheld wireless telephones or electronic wireless communications devices be: 1) mounted; and 2) the driver’s hand is used to activate or deactivate a feature with a single tap or swipe of the driver’s finger.

TOWERS SELLING BATTERIES MUST REGISTER WITH THE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION AND COLLECT $1 FEE

battery

As of April 1, 2017, the “Lead Acid Battery Recycling Act” goes into effect, which requires that anyone, including a tow company, who sells lead-acid batteries in California (a “dealer”) collect a $1 California Battery Fee from a customer for each battery sold. The dealer must pay the collected fee to the California Board of Equalization (BOE), however, the dealer is allowed to retain 1.5% of the fee as reimbursement for any costs associated with the collection of the fee.

In order to remit the fee, a company would need to register and submit it through the BOE’s website. Click “New Registration” on the left-hand top corner on the BOE’s website to begin the process: http://www.boe.ca.gov/

Additionally, the new Act requires that a dealer accept from a customer a used lead-acid battery for recycling and caps the number of batteries that can be returned by a customer at 6 per day. If a used battery is not exchanged for the new battery, the dealer must collect a refundable deposit, the amount of which must be displayed on a receipt. This refundable deposit shall be refunded to the customer if, within 45 days of the sale, the customer presents to the dealer a used battery of the same type and size. A dealer may keep any lead-acid battery deposit moneys that are not properly claimed within 45 days, not including any sales tax reimbursement charged to the consumer.

Further, a dealer shall post a written notice that is clearly visible in the public sales area of the establishment, or include on the purchaser’s receipt, the following language:

This dealer is required by law to charge a nonrefundable $1 California battery fee and a refundable deposit for each lead-acid battery purchased.

A credit of the same amount as the refundable deposit will be issued if a used lead-acid battery is returned at the time of purchase or up to 45 days later along with this dealer’s receipt.

Here’s a little more background info on AB 2153, the Lead-Acid Battery Recycling Act of 2016, by Assembly Member Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens). The bill is a reaction to the closing of the Exide Technologies battery recycling facility in Vernon, CA, which was forced to close and pay $7.7M to the state due to soil and groundwater contamination. Additionally, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has estimated that homes between 1.3 and 1.7 miles away from the facility may potentially be affected by Exide’s lead contamination (somewhere between 5,000 – 10,000 residential properties), with a cost of about $45,000 per home. This could result in the most extensive cleanup of its kind in California and will be among the largest cleanup ever conducted in the nation. On April 20, 2016, the Governor signed legislation appropriating a $176.6 million loan from the General Fund to the Toxic Substances Control Account to enable DTSC to test the area, but after this loan amount is expended, DTSC will likely need additional funds to do a complete and thorough cleanup. AB 2153 is intended to fill that gap while providing an ongoing source of funds to address future lead contamination from lead-acid batteries. The bill was supported by a wide range of groups including environmental groups, Battery Council International, the California Automotive Wholesalers’ Association, and the LA Board of Supervisors, amongst others, and was passed with a 2/3’s vote of the Legislature.

President’s Message

Hello Coalition Members,

As 2016 nears its final month It allows us to reflect back and gauge our accomplishments in the industry and our association. We also are reminded of the challenges that lie ahead, like the rising costs of insurance, a deficient driver pool, hours of service and the list goes on. I know that if we are going to meet these challenges we need to work together, now more than ever before. Which is why we have leveraged our strengths with CTTA’s on many fronts. We have representation on TROC, we sit on CTTA’s Board as an allied association. Your Coalition worked with CTTA and our counsel at the State Capital on many legislative issues. Our efforts will produce online supplemental training modules for our members in early 2017. Working across the aisle with other industry associations is what will get us across the goal line on many of the issues we face. As we go into the new year, we need you! We started this journey together almost five years ago, now is not the time to be complacent. Renewals will be arriving soon in your inbox and through the mail. We did not increase our membership dues. Please continue to join our efforts.

As I mentioned, much has been accomplished this year. Below are a few bullet points of what your Coalition has done in 2016.

  • We had a presence at several Tow shows this year. Las Vegas, St. Louis, Tennessee, San Diego and Baltimore.
  • We spoke in Tennessee at the Motor Club Forum which included towers from across the country and representatives of AAA, Road America, Geico, Agero and others.
  • We were invited to speak by TRAA at the Motor Club Forum in Baltimore.
  • Committee Members from CTTA and UCMCS have worked tirelessly to finalize the scripting for our online training program, which could not have been accomplished without the tremendous support from CTTA’s staff.
  • Several legislative actions (see legislative updates)
  • As our relationship grows deeper with Tow Times, we can anticipate more of a national footprint in the future.

I would like to close by reminding our members of the support we get from our Associate Members. Please support them.

Thanks to all our members that support us! I look forward to a prosperous 2017!

Steve Sgarlato
President
UCMCS

 

 

 

Word on the Street

By Sam Johnson

Do you remember playing Slug Bug when you were younger? You know, the game where you spot a VW bug and punch the arm of your passenger who missed the opportunity to call it out before getting slugged? Or “I Spy”, looking for certain items along the roadside? For ten or more years, I have been playing a game much like Slug Bug and I Spy, only this time, the hunt is for new towing companies with names I do not recognize.

Since starting this little game, not a week has gone by that I haven’t spotted a new name on the side of a tow truck as I drive around my town. Sometimes it’s a “new” company, with the same truck and the second or third name on it. Today, I look for two a week and to my surprise there are plenty out there. Most are single truck operators trying their hand at our industry, finding after a short time that they are unable to survive in today’s highly volatile and extremely challenging industry that requires much more than simply having a truck and being able to transport a car.

The most recent trend I have noticed is the number of well established, and even sizeable, towing companies that have closed their doors. These companies were my competitors and peers in the roadside service and towing industry, some for as long as 30 years. Most of them today are closing their doors, liquidating their assets, and walking away with broken dreams. There are a handful within 15 miles of my shop, and numbers into the double digits as I look throughout the state. I don’t share this to bring doom and gloom, but to call attention to and acknowledge it as a sign of the times.

For those of us that are still in it the game, and battling the daily grind to remain in this competitive industry, I would offer the following observations. Towing and roadside service is not going away. We are not in the yellow book of advertising or the pay phones of the past, but as we go forward, we will look very different from the distant roots of our inception. To say that we will not be effected by today’s technology and the advent of the smart phone would be like denying that Uber had any effect on the taxi industry.

So, then what? How will it change, and what does the future hold? Consider other industries and markets and what happens to them when they see these types of challenges and changes.   See how they have adapted to excel in a competitive yet changing market and apply that to your own business model.

What we do know is that the demand for our services is not decreasing. In fact, in most areas there is a significant rise in demand with the growth of other segments of our economy. It’s getting harder and harder to get in and really be a competitor. Regulations and market penetration prevent you from tip toeing your way into this industry. Technology will change the game – be it an app based product or a smart car service request, our volume of work will be manipulated and directed through these next trends. Use this time as an opportunity to be on the cutting edge of these new business trends and models to ensure you do not fall prey to the I Spy game of closing businesses and broken dreams.

I see hope and opportunity waiting for those that can not only hold on, but who can thrive through these challenging times and make it to the other side. With a decreasing supply chain of qualified companies and a rising demand for services, the price point is soon to follow. You simply can’t afford to run these businesses for the same rates of last year or worse, the last five. The simple rule of supply and demand tells us that it’s just a matter of time.

My prediction, just like Facebook, Twitter or Uber, an app based technology is going to rock our world. It will upset the apple cart and those that can embrace it will thrive. Those that can’t…. well I think we all know how that story ends. The traditional “towing” model will eventually be no more and a new model will emerge in its place. Our industry, like many, may look drastically different in five years, but it will still be here with plenty of demand. The question is, will you?

UCMCS’ Legislative Victories in 2016

UCMCS, with help from its legislative advocates Ellison Wilson Advocacy and other stakeholders, worked overtime this year at the State Capitol to defend the tow industry from the following potentially devastating attacks:

AB 2167 by Assembly Member Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo) was passed by the Legislature to address privacy concerns surrounding 2015’s AB 1222 (Bloom) – specifically, the requirement that tow truck drivers leave their driver’s license info at dealerships and autobody shops each time a vehicle is dropped off.  UCMCS successfully advocated to allow drivers to be able to legally submit a motor club ID number or other government authorized unique identifying number as an alternative to a driver’s license in this context.  Overall, AB 2167 included the following changes to Vehicle Code section 22513.1, which will go into effect on January 1, 2017:

  • AB 2167 includes an option for tow truck drivers to be able to legally submit a motor club ID number or other government authorized unique identifier when dropping off a vehicle as an alternative to a driver’s license during hours that a business is open to the public.
  • AB 2167 provides that, if a tow truck operator refuses to provide any information, a new motor vehicle dealer, as defined in Vehicle Code section 426, is in compliance if the dealer is able to document that reasonable efforts were made to obtain the tow operator’s information.
  • AB 2167 provides that a business taking possession of a vehicle from a tow truck operator when a business is closed to the public is required to document the following information: a) The make, model, and license plate or vehicle identification number; b) The date and time that the business first observed the vehicle on its property; c) That reasonable effort was made by the business to contact the towing company, if identifying information was left with the vehicle, and the following information is provided with the vehicle: i. The name, address, and telephone number of the  towing company; ii. The name and driver’s license number, driver’s identification number issued by a motor club or other government-authorized unique identifier of the tow truck operator.

AB 873 by Assembly Member Brian Jones (R-Santee) would have subjected towers to regulation by the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) if performing minor automotive repair services, that have previously been exempt, including changing batteries.  In order to avoid more unnecessary governmental regulation on the towing industry, UCMCS successfully advocated alongside fellow stakeholders for a complete exemption from BAR for all towers performing roadside service that have a valid Motor Carrier Permit and are in the BIT Program.  The bill was ultimately signed by the Governor with the towing exemption in place.

AB 2586 by Assembly Member Mike Gatto (D-Glendale), dubbed the “Parking Bill of Rights,” included an unreasonable provision that would have required towers to provide free towing and storage to vehicle owners when their vehicle was towed for illegal parking if the illegal parking was the result of the vehicle being stolen or other third party criminal activity.  After intense lobbying from UCMCS and the tow industry, Assembly Member Mike Gatto agreed to remove this offensive towing provision from his bill due to the unjustified negative impact this provision would have had on the small businesses in our industry.

While UCMCS is proud to have stood up at the Capitol to protect towers in California this year, we know that next year will inevitably bring new threats and opponents.  Nevertheless UCMCS vows to continue to fight for the rights of its members and the tow industry.