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A brilliant new idea to stop your car getting towed (or is it?)

Will this stop drivers from getting angry? Or will it actually encourage bad behavior?
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Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributor on
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A race to victory?

Screenshot by ZDNet

Technology hasn't always been a vehicle for happiness.

It's too easy to be mean. It's too easy to be anonymously venomous.

And then there's government. When has that ever been a vehicle for happiness? Well, except for when it does things we like, or that benefit us.

Therefore, I am risen to rapture that a government has taken it upon itself to do citizens an actual favor. 

Naturally, this gesture of generosity is being enacted in San Francisco.

The city's Municipal Transportation Agency is asking drivers to sign up for a program entitled Text Before Tow.

The idea is that the agency doesn't want to be mean. Well, not too mean. So instead of giving you a lovely surprise after it's summarily towed away your car for an alleged violation, it'll text you first.

Here's the truly odd part. The SFMTA claims no one has thought of this before.

Could it be that towing is such a fine money maker? Could it be that someone secretly films the reactions of motorists when they return to where their car used to be -- and then shows it at the annual Council Holiday Party?

I can barely conceive that any local official would utter words that came from the agency's Manny Yekutiel: "It is rewarding to see not only a technological advancement that is a first-of-its-kind, but one that will be a game-changer when it comes to curbing the expenses that come with a tow for everyday people."

You just want to hug Manny, don't you?

You also want to be sure there aren't any catches.

Well, the pilot program only covers four kinds of infractions: "Parking in one spot for 72 hours; blocked driveways; construction zones; and temporary no-parking zones such as special event or moving truck."

This, however, makes up 27% of all parking infractions in San Francisco.

Catch 2: You won't know how much time you have to get back to your car and move it. The text will be sent at the same time as a tow truck is dispatched.

It's a veritable race to victory, it seems. The tow truck could be coming from nearby. Or it could be coming from some distance.

This is immensely exciting. I'm trying to imagine the number of tow truck drivers who'll arrive at the scene, only to discover the miscreant has scuttled away.

I'm also trying to imagine the delicious pain of the car owner who arrives just four seconds too late.

I want to believe this will work. I want to believe that this is a glorious use of technology.

But I have one worry: people.

How many will be tempted to sign up for the program just to see how much they can get away with?

Park your car illegally and go to dinner. Make sure there are no more than five minutes between your car and the restaurant.

It's a win every time. Meanwhile, some poor homeowner can't get out of their driveway.

I'll be fascinated by how this all works out.

It's a rare technological gesture toward faith in your fellow human.

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