USDOT Supports Strong Protections for Truckers Against Predatory Towing Junk Fees
Comment on FTC’s proposed junk fee ban outlines concerns with predatory towing junk fees plaguing truckers that can add up to thousands of dollars and suggests banning unnecessary and excessive fees
President Biden has called on federal agencies, Congress, and private companies to crack down on hidden junk fees
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) today expressed strong support for trucker protections against predatory towing fees in a comment filed on the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) proposed rule banning junk fees. FMCSA’s comment outlines concerns with predatory towing junk fee practices that significantly increase costs for commercial motor vehicle owners and operators. The comment also offers support for the proposed ban on hidden and misleading fees and urges the FTC to consider additional restrictions against the types of unnecessary and excessive mandatory junk fees plaguing truckers. FMCSA’s filing is part of President Biden’s whole-of-government approach to lower costs for Americans by banning hidden junk fees.
“When a truck driver’s vehicle is towed, they can’t earn a living until they get it back — leaving them vulnerable to predatory junk fees from towing companies,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “We support FTC’s efforts to stand up for truckers by acting to ban junk fees and prevent predatory towing fees that can cause significant financial harm.”
“Predatory towing negatively impacts consumers, including commercial motor vehicle drivers and trucking companies. It is detrimental to the overall health of the trucking industry, and it's time to end excessive rates, surcharges and other unfair fees associated with predatory towing,” noted FMCSA Acting Deputy Administrator Sue Lawless.
Towing can occur at the request of the trucker after a breakdown, or at the request of law enforcement or a property owner if the vehicle has been parked illegally. In either case, towing causes substantial distress for truckers who are unable to earn a livelihood until they can regain access to their vehicle. Once their vehicle has been towed, truckers are in a very vulnerable position and highly susceptible to predation. FMCSA is concerned that predatory towing companies can and do use their possession of the vehicle as leverage to prey upon truckers who are in no position to push back.
While there are a wide range of predatory tactics associated with towing, a number of them center on the mandatory or otherwise unavoidable fees that towing companies charge. FMCSA’s comment outlines several potentially unfair or deceptive fee practices used by predatory towers. These include hiding fees until the tow is completed, charging for unnecessary or worthless services, and imposing an excessive number of fees for excessive amounts. These predatory fees can add up to thousands of dollars for truckers.
In October, the FTC proposed a ban on junk fees that would prohibit businesses from charging hidden and bogus junk fees by requiring them to include all mandatory fees when quoting a price. FMCSA believes that predatory towing fee practices fall within the purview of FTC’s proposed rule, which would greatly benefit truckers if finalized. In its comment to the FTC, FMCSA expresses strong support for the important protections and offers suggestions for additional restrictions that would further help protect truckers from predatory towing junk fees. These suggestions include:
- Ban junk fees for unnecessary goods or services: FMCSA suggests adding a provision that prohibits companies from charging any fee for an ancillary good or service that has no value, costs nothing extra to provide, or that reasonably would be assumed to be included in the upfront price of the good or service. For example, towing companies often charge “equipment fees” for using equipment that they already own and use routinely to provide the towing service.
- Prohibit or restrict excessive junk fee practices: FMCSA encourages the FTC to consider prohibiting or imposing restrictions on excessive fee practices. These practices include charging an excessive number of fees, charging excessive amounts for a fee, or charging variable fees for fixed costs. The provision on excessive fees could focus on consumers who have little to no ability to avoid, negotiate, decline, anticipate, or limit the number or cost of the fees, or consumers who are vulnerable, in distress, or otherwise limited in choice by their circumstances.
- Treat each illegal junk fee as a violation: FMCSA suggests that the final rule treat each illegal junk fee as a separate violation and that the rule expressly prohibit companies from charging or collecting mandatory fees that are not appropriately disclosed, are not included in the total price, and/or cannot be fully calculated upfront.
FMCSA’s comment is available at: https://www.transportation.gov/briefing-room/ftc-fmcsa-comment-nprm-r207011
The filing is part of USDOT’s effort under the Biden-Harris Administration and Secretary Buttigieg to significantly expand consumer rights in transportation, including by limiting and banning hidden junk fees. USDOT is currently pursuing rules that would:
- Ban family seating junk fees and guarantee that parents can sit with their children for no extra charge when they fly. Before President Biden and Secretary Buttigieg pressed airlines earlier this year, no airline committed to guaranteeing fee-free family seating. Now, four airlines guarantee fee-free family seating, as the Department is working on its family seating junk fee ban proposal.
- Ensure fee transparency so consumers know the cost for flying with a checked or carry-on bag and for changing or canceling a flight before they buy a ticket and can make informed decisions, save money, and avoid surprises at checkout.
- Make passenger compensation and amenities mandatory so that travelers are taken care of when airlines cause flight delays or cancellations.
- Ensure that airlines promptly provide a refund when they cancel or significantly change a flight without rebooking the passenger.
- Guarantee refunds for passengers for significantly delayed bags and for services they paid for that are not actually provided, such as broken Wi-Fi.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) mission is to prevent crashes, fatalities, and injuries involving commercial trucks and buses. FMCSA develops safety and regulatory standards for commercial driver’s licenses; analyzes data; sponsors research; and promotes enforcement and education. FMCSA partners with nonprofit organizations, local and State governments, and other stakeholders to support innovative commercial driver training, safety inspections, and enhanced compliance and enforcement initiatives.