[Note: This story was originally published on March 29, 2016.]
PINELLAS COUNTY, Florida - A unique ordinance, designed to encourage bar patrons to leave their vehicles overnight, was pitched to county commissioners Tuesday after the chair of the board saw a 10Investigates WTSP story on predatory towing.
"Here’s a step that we can take that can potentially save lives," said Pinellas County Commission Chairman Charlie Justice. "Really, it’s not that ... hard to do, but it has a big potential impact."
Justice asked his fellow commissioners if they had any interest in copying a city of Tampa ordinance that prohibits overnight towing under most circumstances from the parking lots of bars or restaurants that serve alcohol on-premise. The idea was met with great curiosity from commissioners, who seemed to have open minds, but a lot of questions about specifics.
10Investigates showed how the fear of aggressive towing could be leading more bargoers to drive home at the end of the night. 10News General Manager Elliott Wiser called on local elected leaders to copy Tampa's ordinance, an idea Justice immediately discussed with Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who was also interested.
"We’re trying to get people to make better decisions," Justice said following Tuesday's commission meeting, where he mentioned the area's rash of recent wrong-way DUI crashes and deaths.
Commissioner Karen Seel asked Justice if predatory towing outside bars was a problem in Pinellas County, to which he responded he wasn't aware of a problem. But 10Investigates found -- even in Hillsborough County, where a special agency is in charge of investigating consumer complaints -- few upset drivers ever file complaints, as most assume there's no possible recourse.
Other concerns about the proposed ordinance concern the infringement of private landowners' property rights, but Gualtieri said he was satisfied with the language in the Tampa ordinance that allows bar or restaurant owners to initiate an impound themselves if necessary. The ordinance primarily targets wrecker-initiated tows, which are often more predatory than they are necessary.
Pasco County commissioners are also expected to discuss a similar ordinance on April 12, while Tampa is currently considering ways it could expand its ordinance to better-educate bar-goers about their options if they don't want to drive. St. Petersburg leaders have also shown some interest in exploring the consumer protection in their city.
3/17/16: Tampa to crack down on predatory towing outside bars
2/25/16: Can Tampa Bay invent new ways to discourage DUIs?
2/24/16: Pasco now considering copying Tampa's ordinance
2/16/16: Hillsborough moves toward better tow laws
2/10/16: Pinellas officials want tow truck protections, too
2/9/16: Refunds for tow victims, as Hillsborough eyes amnesty law
2/9/16: EDITORIAL: Other cities should copy Tampa
2/8/16: Tampa council calls for immediate tow fixes
2/7/16: Tow trucks penalizing drinkers who don't drive
1/25/16: Confronting predatory towing & how to get a refund if you're towed illegally
1/18/16: Failure to "move over" puts tow operators in danger