Car Renters: Beware Traffic Cameras

Posted: August 9, 2010

Sticker shock at the car rental counter is nothing new.  With fuel surcharges, local taxes and fees, the daily rate for a rental car can end up being much more than what's quoted on the rental company's website. Now there's another cost you'll need to watch out for: traffic tickets.

"Since 2008, several of the nation's largest car-rental companies have shared rental and credit card information with a division of American Traffic Solutions, the nation's largest operator of speed-limit and red-light cameras," reports MSN. "As a result, many renters have opened up their credit card statements and been startled to find they've been charged by the company, ATS Processing Services, for a traffic infraction they never knew they'd committed, along with a $30 administrative fee."

Traffic camera fines vary by state, but can range as high as $1,000.  Plus, some states report infractions to your insurance company -- so in addition to the traffic ticket, if you get caught in a rental car by a traffic camera, your car insurance rates can go up as well.

Understandably, not everyone is thrilled with rental car companies handing out credit card information, and consumers getting automatically charged. Autoblog points out that the practice "does away with that whole 'due process of the law' thing on which our entire justice system is based."

"Ordinarily, if you get a traffic ticket, you have the chance to go to court and plead your case to get the fine reduced or waived. With this electronic system, pleading ‘not guilty’ isn't an option," says WalletPop.

With all the downsides, why are rental car companies using the system? "Not long ago, Hertz received hundreds of thousands of tickets annually worth millions of dollars in fines," says MSN. "Hertz would pay those tickets, try to figure out who was renting the vehicle at the time and then go after the renter (usually charging his or her credit card and adding a $20 service charge)," they add. The process was time-consuming and expensive for rental car companies.  By partnering with ATS, the expense is passed onto the renter.

Hertz, Avis and Budget car rental companies have similar deals with ATS. Before you rent, read the fine print on the contract to see what extra charges you might get hit with.  And -- oh yeah -- try not to break any traffic laws.

Planning a trip? Before you get hit with rental car charges, plan your travels with the U.S. News Travel site, where we've reviewed and ranked some of the world's best travel destinations.  If you're in the market for a new car, check out the U.S. News rankings of this year's best cars as well as this month's best car deals