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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingMarch 13 - March 19, 2019

Do Towers Have Civil Responsibility and Liability?

Tow 82042By Randall C. Resch

You receive a service call for a simple tire change that's located on a city street in the middle of a fine Saturday afternoon. The buzz of the city is its usual pace. Upon your arrival, you greet your customer and sense something just isn't right. The odor of beer reeks from your customer's person, and they're not overly stable as they walk about.

Their speech is thick and slurred and the whites of their eyes are red and bloodshot. When you ask for their membership card, they fumble through their wallet and drop it on the pavement as they attempt to hand it to you.

This isn't rocket science; you've encountered an individual who might be too intoxicated to drive ... but you're not a cop. You didn't see them operating their vehicle. Whether or not they were operating their vehicle in an intoxicated state comes into play.

Or does it?

Technically, if anything, your customer might be presently guilty of public intoxication. You're there to change the customer's tire. Do you have any civic responsibilities or liabilities in this matter?

Responsibility and Liability

In November 2017, a police department in Florida responded to a comical 911 call from a vehicle owner. It appeared that a 71-year-old motorist told police dispatch he was intoxicated and was driving on a blown tire. It was reported that the owner needed the phone number of a towing company so he could call them to come change his tire. While probably not the smartest thing for an intoxicated driver to do, the driver was subsequently arrested with a blood alcohol content of 0.202; more than twice the legal limit.

The scary part of this incident suggests that perhaps for every 100 drivers that are on the roadways and driving in an intoxicated state, only a handful are apprehended as the result of traffic accidents or other incidents like those described here.

As the responding tow operator, you arrive to a basic service request only to find your roadside customer in an obviously tipsy condition. However, very few professional tow operators have ever been trained in DUI recognition or behaviors, let alone have experience in horizontal gaze nystagmus.

It's Your Conscious

You may not want to be that person to send a nice someone to jail by calling the police; but could you live with your conscious decision to allow an intoxicated person to re-enter their vehicle to possibly kill someone down the road?

In Missouri, a police officer allegedly encountered a questionably intoxicated college student, but didn't perform sobriety tests for whatever reasons. The student was let go with only a warning and the officer went on his way.

That police encounter was the last time that driver was seen alive.

Two months later, the student's body was found submerged in a body of water in the same vehicle only miles from the traffic stop. An autopsy revealed that the student had alcohol, cocaine and amphetamines in her system.

I'd venture to say that most towers don't know how to accurately recognize or evaluate intoxicated individuals. That being the case, should it be your business or concern that the intoxicated customer may decide to drive in their condition when service is completed?

Here are possible ways to handle the situation:

• Offer to call a friend or taxi to take them home.
• Offer to tow them and their car to their residence for pay.
• Offer to tow them to their residence as a "Safe Tow."
• Contact law enforcement who is best trained to make these evaluations.

Towers are saddled with a level of responsibility. I believe it's important that towers pre-think their actions before being faced in a situation like the bartender cutting off the befuddled bar patron. There are civic responsibilities and liabilities in making the proper choice of not sending an intoxicated person back onto the roadway.

Randall Resch is American Towman's and Tow Industry Week's Operations Editor, a former California police officer, tow business owner and retired civilian off-road instructor for Navy Special Warfare. Randall is an approved instructor for towers serving the California Highway Patrol's rotation contract. His course is approved by the California law enforcement community. He has written over 500 industry-related articles for print and on-line, is a member of the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame, and, a recipient of the 2017 Dave Jones Leadership Award.
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