To Park or not to Park: The Towing Industry in Queensland

In May 2017, the Queensland Government announced a three-month inquiry into the towing industry and the removal of parked vehicles from publicly accessible private carparks and private roads that are not currently covered by the existing legislation. The inquiry is a result of widespread confusion and complaints from the Queensland community due to the inconsistencies in the industry’s fees and charges for towing and storage; and the circumstances in which a vehicle can legally be towed from private property.

The following article outlines the current legal requirements in which Queensland tow truck operators must comply. The inquiry report is due to be released in mid-August 2017.

The current legislation

In Queensland, the towing industry is currently regulated by the Tow Truck Act 1973 (Qld) ('Tow Truck Act’) and Tow Truck Regulation 2009 (Qld) (‘Tow Truck Regulation’) as well as the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 (Qld), the Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Vehicle Standards and Safety) Regulation 2010 and the Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2010.

The current legislation only applies to the operation of tow trucks when removing vehicles from the scene of an accident or when seized by police from a publically owned area. The legislation does not apply to towing from private property because the definition of ‘tow truck’ under the Tow Truck Act is limited to vehicles that are used for towing vehicles damaged in an incident or seized by the police.

The current legislation regulates towing fees and imposes a cap on the fees that can be charged by a tow truck operator when towing a vehicle in the specified circumstances.

As at 1 July 2017, the maximum fees that can be charged for a ‘standard tow’ from an accident are as follows:

  • $348.95 for the first 50km; and
  • $6.90 for each kilometre over 50km.

This fee for a standard tow from the scene of an accident includes:

  • 60 minutes working time at the accident scene (e.g. loading vehicle on truck, cleaning up broken glass etc.);
  • Transportation of the vehicle from the accident to the agreed destination; and
  • 72 hours storage in a holding yard.

The Tow Truck Act also provides the licencing scheme for tow truck operators requiring that certain tow truck operators must hold an appropriate licence and driver’s certificate and keep prescribed records.

The licencing scheme applies to most of south-east Queensland and major coastal cities. The areas covered by the scheme are:

  • The shires of Beaudesert, Boonah, Caboolture, Esk, Gatton, Kilcoy, Maroochy, Noose, Pine Rivers and Redland.
  • The cities of Brisbane, Bundaberg, Cairns, Caloundra, Gold Coast, Hervey Bay, Ipswich, Logan, Mackay, Maryborough, Redcliffe, Rockhampton and Toowoomba.
  • The areas made up of the parishes of:
    • Clement and Hinchinbrook in the county of Gray;
    • Beor, Bohle, Coonambelah, Ettrick, Halifax, Lansdowne, Magnetic, Margenta, Rokeby, Ross, Stuart and Wyming in the county of Elphinstone.

Towing from Private Property

Towing from private property, including private operated carparks, is not subject to the above legislated provisions. Therefore, property owners have a right at common law to deal with unauthorised vehicles parked on private property and the ability to set the terms and conditions for entry on their property.

As a result of this, it is common to see signs in private carparks that state that a vehicle will be towed if the vehicle owner is not an authorised visitor or customer; or if the vehicle is parked for longer than the specified period of time. This notice of the terms and conditions of entry creates a contractual relationship between the vehicle owner and the property owner where the vehicle owner consents to having their vehicle towed and being liable for associated costs upon entering the premises if they do not adhere to the outlined parking conditions.

These signs normally set the price for towing, however commonly fail to take into account storage fees. It should be noted that under the Tow Truck Regulation, no charge for storage of a motor vehicle can be imposed unless the owner of the vehicle is given written notice.

What should you do if your vehicle has been towed from a private carpark or property?

If you believe your vehicle has been towed, the first step is to check the surrounding areas where your vehicle was parked and check for any towing signs for contact details.

If you cannot find any contact details, the next step is to contact Policelink on 13 14 44. If your vehicle has been towed, most towing companies will generally provide the details of the vehicle that has been towed to Policelink.

Once you have managed to track your vehicle down, the towing operator will request that you pay the towing fee as well as any additional storage fees that may have been incurred for the storage of your vehicle. The fees associated with towing and storage can differ from operator to operator.

Once you arrive at the towing operator’s premises and ask for your vehicle to be released, the towing operator must release your vehicle as soon as is practicable but not longer than four business hours after the request. If the operator fails to do so they may be liable for stealing pursuant to the provisions of the Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld). If the operator releases your vehicle without taking payment, they will most likely wish to obtain identification and contact details to recover the debt from you at a later date.

However, there is no provision in the current legislation nor any existing Queensland case law that creates a lien or statutory right for a tow truck operator to refuse to release a vehicle until towing charges have been paid. Therefore as the law currently stands, a tow truck operator in Queensland may not be entitled to retain possession of a vehicle on the basis that it has not been paid its towing fees.

For further advice on the regulation of the towing industry in Queensland or in relation to consumer protection, private property owners’ rights or the professional operation of the towing industry, please contact DSS Law on 1300 DSS LAW or at epost@dsslaw.com.au.

Dominic Brunet Dominic Brunet & Renee Pappagallo Renee Pappagallo 01/08/2017

Disclaimer

DSS Law insight articles are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as formal legal advice. If you would like specific advice relating to this topic, please contact DSS Law on epost@dsslaw.com.au.