State puts brakes on GPS speeding fines

Connecticut's Department of Consumer Protection sides with customers against a car-rental company that used GPS-equipped cars to hand out speeding penalties.

Robert Lemos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
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A Connecticut group has sided on behalf of consumers in a case where a driver was fined for speeding in a car outfitted with a global positioning system.

The state's Department of Consumer Protection sided with renters against car rental company Acme Rent-a-Car, of New Haven. In an administrative complaint filed against the car rental company on Monday, the department charged Acme with violating state law when it fined drivers who exceeded the posted speed limit while driving a rental car.

Acme installs global positioning system (GPS) in its cars to find stolen rental cars and charge customers for "dangerous" conduct. When a rental customer drives faster than the posted speed limit, that information is sent to the company.

"We alleged they have violated Connecticut law," the department's commissioner, James T. Fleming, said. "There is no legal ability for them to charge a penalty when there has been no damage."

The complaint comes in answer to a small-claims lawsuit filed last year.

The plaintiff in that suit, New Haven resident James Turner, rented a car from Acme Rent-a-Car last October.

On its contracts, Acme states that "vehicles driven in excess of posted speed limit will be charged a $150 fee per occurrence. All our vehicles are GPS equipped." Turner, and many other customers, didn't connect the two statements, and paid for it later.

Turner apparently drove faster than 77 mph at least three times, not knowing that the car's GPS receiver was giving him away. Without providing him any warning apart from the contract, the rental company went ahead and charged Turner $150 for each incident.

Commissioner Fleming declared the charges illegal.

"If they want to track people, well, companies do that right now," he said. "The difference here is that they tracked--and then they fined--people without properly notifying them."

Acme Rent-a-Car's attorney could not be reached for comment but has previously indicated the company would accept the department's interpretation of the law. The company would still be allowed to track the car using the GPS system, Fleming said.

The Department of Consumer Protection has requested that Acme sign a cease-and-desist order banning it from charging consumers the speeding fine and providing restitution to the more than two-dozen consumers who have been charged.