“Towed Into Debt”: Major New Report Shows How Towing Practices in CA Unfairly Harm Low-Income Drivers

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Today Bay Area Legal Aid announces the publication of “Towed Into Debt.” This major new report looks at the economic, legal, and policy aspects of municipal tow and impound practices across multiple cities in California, where approximately 1 million vehicles are towed by public agencies each year, and finds compelling evidence that:

  • Towing is often imposed as a punishment for the most minor offenses with the least impact on public safety;
  • Vehicles owned by poor people and towed for non-safety reasons areĀ more likely to be sold at lien saleĀ than other towed vehicles;
  • Tow and impound fees are unfair and disproportionately expensive: the average cost to get a vehicle out of impound is $1,100, leaving many poor vehicle owners with no choice but to lose their link to work and school, and often their most valuable item of personal property; and
  • Cities lose money on tows, especially when the reason for a tow is a driver’s inability to pay government-imposed fines and fees

“Towed Into Debt” was created by a collaborative team representing 17 legal services, public interest law, and public policy and advocacy groups, including BayLegal. We are proud that our practice has informed this critical research document, and we look forward to using this data and analysis as a resource in our own ongoing challenge to the City of San Francisco’s unreasonable, unfair, and ineffective tow and impound practices.