Whether you’re in Jackson, Madison or Ridgeland, laws governing wrecker services are pretty much the same.
The municipalities all have laws governing when and how vehicles are towed, as well as rules governing how tow companies can get on their respective city’s rotation list.
In other words, if you’re caught drunk driving in any of the three cities, expect your car to be hauled into the police impound lot.
And, if your car is abandoned on public right-of-way, don’t plan on leaving it there for longer than three to five days, because it will be hauled to a private lot.
One of the main differences between the three cities governs wrecker fees. While Madison and Ridgeland set fees at $125 per call, Jackson currently doesn’t mandate a set rate. Rules governing the last price schedule expired in 2013.
Price aside, there’s little difference.
All three cities use tow companies from a rotating list.
Companies interested in providing wrecker services to the city must apply for and be added to a list.
Firms must meet several requirements to be added, including maintaining insurance. Jackson requires companies to maintain $750,000 in comprehensive auto, $25,000 in on-hook coverage per vehicle, and $25,000 in liability insurance for each lot.
Wreckers also must agree to fee schedules set by the government. In Madison and Ridgeland, maximum fees for towing vehicles is $125 per call, and $35 per day for each day vehicles are held at a lot, Ward said.
By comparison, the Mississippi Highway Patrol allows services to charge up to $200 per call and $50 a day in storage fees.
Ordinances also govern removing abandoned vehicles in public rights-of-way, and processing vehicles suspected to have been used in criminal activities.
All cities give police departments permission to tow abandoned vehicles under various circumstances.
In Jackson and Madison, vehicles abandoned on public right-of-way can be towed three days after they’re first noticed. In Ridgeland, the police department waits five days before towing a vehicle.
If the car is blocking traffic, all three departments can and do tow the vehicle immediately.
“If the vehicle is unoccupied and we see the vehicle, we call the tag in to dispatch and attempt to locate an owner. We attempt to contact the owner and remain with the vehicle for a time period of 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, if we’ve been unable to make contact or the owner has not come back, we tow it due to it being an obstruction,” said Lt. Tony Willridge, with the Ridgeland Police Department.
For vehicles that are abandoned on the side of the road, and not blocking traffic, they’re first tagged by an officer prior to a wrecker being called.
“We place a very visible tow sticker on the windshield or side of the vehicle. That indicates the day we notice it. Then, we give the owner five days. After that, we tow it,” Willridge said.
Similar stickers are placed on vehicles in Madison and Jackson.
Vehicles left on private property are handled differently.
“If it’s on private property, we’ll come out and run the license plate to make sure it’s not stolen or wanted. If not, we’ll advise the property owner to move it,” said Cpt. Kevin Newman with the Madison Police Department.
The property owner and the tow company settle any moving costs.
If the vehicle turns out to be stolen, the police could have it towed to their impound lot.
“If we need it processed for evidence, we’ll have it towed here,” Newman said. “When we’re finished, the vehicle owner would be contacted to come and get it. They’re charged the tow fee. (In) 99 percent of cases, insurance will pay for it.”
Additional rules govern how vehicles are dealt with in cases of drunk driving.
If a driver is suspected of driving under the influence, the officer can release the vehicle to the passenger, if they’re legally able to drive. If not, the vehicle will be towed, said Jackson Police Cmdr. Keith Freeman.
In the case of a third DUI, a felony, the vehicle is taken to the police impound lot, where it is held until the owner pays the related fees or until the car is auctioned, he said.
Freeman didn’t know how long the department would wait before auctioning off a vehicle.
For vehicles being held at private lots, state law says owners or lien holders must be contacted within 10 days, informing them that the car, truck or SUV has been towed. If the vehicle isn’t claimed after 30 days, the tow firm then must run a notice in the paper saying that the vehicle will be sold.
The cars can be sold at public auction, sold for scrap or recycled.