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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingMay 22 - May 28, 2019

Do You Have a Policy for That?

dogimage 9919fBy Brian J. Riker

During a recent conversation on employee behavior with a good friend, it delved specifically into employee actions and repercussions. One of her employees had just made a judgement call while out of contact with the office—one that was quite dangerous and could have ended badly for all involved.

The employee decided to tow a vehicle with occupants inside since there were more people than the tow truck had seating and they could not reach the office for assistance. That wasn't the poor judgement call as they were in a very rural area and could not leave the people stranded.

The poor judgement call was continuing past the nearest point of safety to complete the tow into another state.
How do we as tow owners prevent situations like this from occurring?

The first step is having clear and concise policies in place that outline the company's expectations for routine and not-so-routine situations. Some policies you may want to consider include truck breakdowns, communications loss, robbery, accidents, injuries and belligerent customers ... just for starters.

How about pets? Do you have to take Fido in your cab if the customer requests? The answer to that one depends on if Fido is a service animal. The tricky part is that service animals are protected and you cannot ask or demand proof that the animal is as claimed. If they claim it is a service animal you must make a reasonable accommodation.

What can you do to help a customer that can't physically climb into your truck? What happens if they slip and fall or get hurt?

Some conditions will be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and we must provide reasonable accommodations for these people. You don't have to have special trucks, but you need to help them make alternate transportation arrangements.

I would caution against trying to lift or help someone into your cab as the risk of injury or claims of inappropriate behavior are just too great. I wouldn't just let Grandma try it on her own either. It needs to be a case-by-case decision on the abilities of the individual customer.

Obviously we can't leave anyone stranded, and usually your driver should be able to reach dispatch for guidance. If they are out of radio range, it is important to have given them some fundamental training on how you expect them to make decisions.

The mistake my friend's driver made was in not contacting dispatch as soon as possible to ask for guidance.

Although towers can't leave people stranded, nothing says we must taxi them to their destination. Simply getting them out of harm's way and helping them make other transportation arrangements is acceptable.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration prohibits unauthorized passengers in commercial motor vehicles except in immediately dangerous situations. Many insurance policies will not cover transporting vehicle occupants; and most states prohibit against towing a vehicle with occupants still inside.

To instill good decision-making in your team, start by showing them the principles and processes you use to make decisions daily. Once they have been with your company for any length of time they will see how the process works and be able to anticipate your answers.

Secondly, don't scold or admonish them for poor decisions. Let those bad judgement calls serve as lessons for what could be done differently next time. Have an open discussion about specific incidents at your next company meeting, without singling out individual people or publicly criticizing their decisions. Open discussions go a long way towards enlightening and empowering team members.

Allow your team to own their choices. Make them share the burden of poor choices as well as the rewards of good choices. Have them explain why something went wrong and work with you towards a satisfactory resolution.

Good company policies start with you the owner. Be consistent in how you respond to situations and document your expectations. Ideally, you want your team to make the same decision you would have made.

Take some time this week and think about the many situations you face daily and how you would want them to be addressed. Then write it down and make it part of your company culture.

Brian J Riker is a third generation towman and President of Fleet Compliance Solutions, LLC. He specializes in helping non-traditional fleets such as towing, repossession, and construction companies navigate the complex world of Federal and State transportation regulatory compliance. With 25 years of experience in the ditch as a tow operator Brian truly understands the unique needs and challenges faced by towing companies today. He can be reached at
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