Vehicle Recovery and Road Safety

Recovery of Vehicles after an Accident / Dealing with Tow Truck Operators

Background Information

Tow truck operators provide a valuable service to the motoring public. They are quite often the first to arrive at the scene of an accident and have been known on many occasions to provide assistance and/or first aid to disorientated or injured accident victims. In addition to this, they are quite often seen directing traffic and working with the authorities to clear the accident scene as quickly as possible to avoid further accidents and to restore normal traffic flow.

Risks and Regulating the Industry

Unfortunately, some unscrupulous operators are not acting within the confines of reasonableness and the public has a right to be protected against these operators. The malpractices include:

  • Bribing corrupt police officers to ensure they are first at the scene of an accident. 
  • Offering free cell phones to police officers as an incentive to phone them before reporting an accident. [These corrupt activities may cost many seriously injured people their lives. In medical terms, there is a reference to the 'golden hour' within which medical assistance by paramedics can make the difference of being saved or not.] 
  • Not informing the distressed motorist of all the costs involved in recovering his vehicle.
  • Claiming excessive recovery and storage costs.
  • Some operators have been known to recommend collision repair facilities, not because of the quality of work they do but because they pay the tow operator a commission, generally a percentage of the repair cost (as high as 15-20%) for securing the job.

The South African Towing and Recovery Association (SATRA) and UTASA (United Towing Association of South Africa) have confirmed that many of these risks exist and identified the need for the industry to be regulated. Anybody can buy a one-ton truck and turn it into a tow truck and start operating.

SATRA has offered to assist motorists and guide them through the whole process, whether it's a breakdown or an accident. Motorists can call SATRA 24/7 for free advice and assistance arrangement on 0861 0 SATRA (0861 0 72872).


Advice for motorists when your vehicle has broken down

The motorists should not be forced into making an ill-considered decision. Even though many operators might arrive at the accident scene – it is still his decision on who should assist in the recovery of his vehicle. The National Road Traffic Act 93 of 1996 stipulates in Section 61(3) that ‘…no person shall remove a vehicle involved in an accident, except to sufficiently allow the passage of traffic, without the permission of the owner, driver or operator of such vehicle or a person who may lawfully take possession of such vehicle.’

The following suggestions will assist the motorist:

  • If you are an AA member, contact the AA to arrange the tow. The AA uses only certain towing companies that comply with a code of conduct and service levels. You also have recourse if something goes wrong. 
  • Only use the services of the first SATRA or UTASA member to arrive at the scene of an accident. You have the right to choose to use a SATRA or UTASA member, who is bound by a contractually enforceable code of conduct and protects you, the consumer, from being charged above market-related rates. 
  • If your vehicle is insured, contact your insurer or broker and ask for information on the procedure to follow – have this available in your vehicle at all times. 
  • If you have an insurance cover that includes towing charges, call the emergency towing assistance number (usually on a sticker provided by the insurance company). 
  • The roadside assistance services provided by motor manufacturers and cellular service providers inevitably come at an extra cost so if you buy a new car or cell phone contract and roadside assistance forms part of the deal, make sure you are not paying extra for it if you already have this service through someone else. 
  • If you make use of a roadside assistance product. Make sure you know your rights: in almost all cases you or your insurer will be liable to pay the costs of towing an accident-damaged vehicle. 
  • Make sure that the accident-damaged vehicle is delivered to a repairer approved by your insurer or, if you are not insured, make sure to collect your vehicle as soon as possible to prevent the accrual of storage charges. 
  • When dealing with recovery companies, always establish the amount to be charged for all aspects including towing, salvage and storage fees. Always agree on towing charges before your vehicle is towed or you might be in for an unpleasant surprise. 
  • Get as much information about the tow operator as possible before you agree to the recovery - the name of the company, driver, and registration of tow truck, physical address and phone number (preferably not a cell phone). 
  • Always agree on towing charges before your vehicle is towed or you might be in for an unpleasant surprise. 
  • Do not sign anything. If the tow operator insists, make sure that it is ONLY an authorization to tow the vehicle. 
  • Remove all valuables from the motor vehicle before it is towed away for repairs.

Responsibilities of the South African Police [SAPS]

Attendance and Crime Scene Investigation of Road Crime Crashes  / Accidents  [CAS Docket Cases]: Removal of vehicles by Towing Services

When may the police decide not to release a vehicle to a towing company or the family of someone in a road crash and when would they release such a vehicle? 

To gain clarity on this the industry body UTASA approached the SAPS. The response is in agreement with what the sentiments of UTASA and could assist in ensuring compliance and preventing possible arrests going forward.


Also view:

Safe Driving and Towing a Trailer Safely

Roadside Assistance and Road Safety

FirstGroup and Road Safety