Many Chapel Hill residents and UNC students alike have a nightmare towing story. For junior Madison Rideout, forgetting to move her car during a football game last fall resulted in confusion, hours on the phone with UNC Transportation and Parking and a $100 fee.
After a public hearing on the issue in 2012, the Chapel Hill Town Council worked to address what many residents called “predatory” towing practices by passing a series of town ordinances. These ordinances included several provisions designed to regulate the ability of towing companies to tow vehicles from private lots and required specific signage at various intervals across the lot to indicate the area was a tow-away zone.
The ordinances also placed a cap on the towing and storage fees that companies could charge for involuntarily towed vehicles and required towing companies to accept cash, debit cards and at least two major credit cards without the costs of extra transaction fees for towed individuals.
Former Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said addressing the expensive, cash-only fees of many towing companies in Chapel Hill was a major goal of the town council’s ordinances.
“It’s the 21st century, who has $120 in cash? Or $200 in cash?” Kleinschmidt said.
The ordinances also addressed cellphone use among Chapel Hill drivers.
Current North Carolina law prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from using their cellphone while on the road, but the town ordinance put in place in 2012 prevented older drivers from using a cellphone while driving. Noncompliant drivers could be issued a fee of up to $25 but would not receive points on their license.
Another provision of the town ordinance required towing companies to notify police within 15 minutes of completing a tow which presented a problem for many members of the town’s towing industry due to the cellphone provision of the ordinances.
George King, proprietor of George’s Towing and Recovery in Chapel Hill, challenged the town ordinances in court, claiming that the cellphone provisions prevented him from effectively doing his job.