Sunday, January 19, 2014
After snow, should car be towed?
How tolerant should you be when someone invades your personal space?
After a snowstorm hits and you've dug out an on-street parking space for your car, there's a long tradition in some neighborhoods in Boston where I live of marking your parking spot with some object to indicate you dug it out and you're planning to return. While it's not exactly legal -- since individuals don't own the public street -- it's a tradition that seems to be honored, albeit reluctantly.
We're fortunate that we have an outdoor parking space that clearly sits on our property. We dig out the space after snowstorms and know that it will be there without having to mark it.
But after we had dug out after our most recent snowstorm and had driven to run some errands, we returned in the evening to find a car we couldn't identify parked in the space in our yard.
As our car idled outside our house, I beeped the horn a couple of times to see if any neighbors who might have parked there would come out. A few neighbors emerged, but only to say that they had no idea whose car it was either.
For the next hour or so, I knocked on doors to see if anyone might know whose car it was. My wife texted neighbors whose numbers she had to ask them the same question.
Just in case the owner showed up as I was soliciting neighbors, I had left a note on the car's windshield to let the owner know that he was parked illegally and that a tow service would be called to remove his car.
None of the neighbors we contacted owned the car.
Did I really want to call the tow service to have the car removed? In the thirty-something years we have owned the house, we had never called a tow company to remove a car from the space.
After a day of helping neighbors clear off their walks and decks and other neighbors doing the same for their neighbors, did I really want to have some guy's car towed? Was that really the right thing to do instead of driving several blocks away and seeing if I could find an uncleared space on the street to dig out? Ultimately, I did find a space up the road that it only took me 10 minutes to dig out.
Of course, the illegal parker could have done the same thing.
I called the tow service and while I waited another hour or so for the truck to show up, I checked with other neighbors who had since returned home. No luck.
After the car was towed I wrote another note telling the car's owner that his car had been towed and what number he could call to find out how to retrieve it. I taped the note to a trash can near the parking space and pulled our car in.
Regardless of the car being parked illegally, the right thing wasn't simply to have the car towed without making an effort to find its owner. Neither was it right not to attempt to let him know what had happened to his car.
The next morning the note was gone. We haven't seen the car again nor any sign of its owner.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin