Who taught you to drive?

Answering tricky questions from the readers’ mail bag

Tow trucks may not tow a vehicle containing a passenger. But they could also call police to have a person removed.
Jessey Dearing for The Boston Globe
Tow trucks may not tow a vehicle containing a passenger. But they could also call police to have a person removed.

The e-mails arrived one by one, each like a secret tap on the shoulder. “Psst!” they seemed to say. “Jump in the car when he’s not looking!”

The subject was what do to when your car is about to get towed. I had written two lengthy columns this spring on towing rules, but a trio of readers said I’d missed the obvious: To stop a tow-truck operator from driving off with your car, assuming you show up in time, simply get in — even if it’s already been hooked or lifted.

“The best thing to do if you encounter your car in the process of being towed — more like stolen, in my opinion — is to quickly get into the car,” wrote Michael Menzie of Belmont. “It is definitely illegal to tow a car with someone in it. My son found himself in a similar situation and the tow truck thief was forced to release the car despite giving my son some verbal abuse.”


David Wunsch, also of Belmont, advised pressing on your car’s horn if the tow-truck operator attempts to drive off with you. “The cops would . . . notice you inside,” he noted.

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At the very least, wrote Bob Sarkisian of Hamilton, you’d nab a free ride to the tow lot.

“Lock the doors and take a nap,” he wrote. “Case closed.”

Should you take their advice, or is there more to it than that? Let’s find out, as we answer some of your e-mails and letters this week.

Bad idea

Wunsch was right about one thing: The police definitely would catch you riding atop a tow-truck lift. But an officer most assuredly would not let you stay there, said Brian Simoneau, a Framingham traffic-law attorney.


“It would be a safety violation to tow a vehicle with someone sitting in it,” he wrote me. “The tow truck operator would have the right to call the police to have you removed so that he could tow the vehicle. Towing the vehicle with you in it might constitute operating so as to endanger, so the driver would not be expected to do that.”

Legally speaking, a tow operator assumes legal control of your vehicle once he has hookedit up, Simoneau said. So if you were to climb aboard and refuse to get out, police could arrest you for disorderly conduct.

Signal still

Simple questions don’t always have the most apparent answers, such as this one from Cheryl Peterson of Hingham:

“When you are driving in a designated right- or left-turn-only lane, is it still necessary to use your directional signal?”

Personally, I was stumped. Maybe you don’t need to, I wanted to say.


For the legally tight answer, I contacted attorney and police instructor John Sofis Scheft, whose consulting business, Law Enforcement Dimensions, is based in Arlington.

“The statute says you have to signal if your driving ‘would affect the operation of any other vehicle,’ ” Scheft wrote back. “If there is a car behind you, your turn would affect its operation.”

So that’s the answer: Signal, unless the road is deserted.

Buses OK

Buses whose drivers travel in the fast lane were the subject of a question from Bill Weihs, who commutes to work from his home in Wenham.

“Aren’t buses prohibited from using the third, far left, lane when traveling on Route 1, similar to the restrictions placed on tractor-trailer trucks?” he asked.

Again, Scheft surprised me with his answer.

“Unless there is some regulation I am unaware of, buses are not prohibited from using the left lane on a highway,” he said. “However, like any other vehicle, they may not travel in the left lane unless passing another vehicle or making a left turn. Although motorists do it all the time, it is improper, and may be cited for a $105 ticket.”

A bad sign

John DelTufo came across an open parking space on Seaport Boulevard in Boston. The sign at the spot read, “Valet Parking. No parking Monday 5 p.m. to Sunday 1 a.m.”

It was 7 p.m. on a Sunday — well after the Sunday restriction had been lifted — so DelTufo figured he was in the clear. But before he could leave his car, a restaurant valet was upon him, telling him to beat it.

“He didn’t interpret the sign as I did,” said DelTufo, of Quincy. “He suggested that it meant no parking from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. every day.

“I’m confused. If the sign is intended to mean every day, why does it not just simply say, ‘No parking 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.’?”

DelTufo asked for my help, so I called MassPort, which has jurisdiction over parking spots in that area. After researching the sign, MassPort spokesman Matt Brelis agreed that it needed editing.

That sign was misleading, and I thank the reader and you for bringing it to our attention. The message now reflects that valet parking is in effect 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. seven days a week,” Brelis wrote to me.

The valet, it turns out, knew his turf.

Peter DeMarco can be reached at His Facebook page is “Who Taught You to Drive?” and on Twitter @whotaughtU2driv.