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Florida Traffic Cameras Found Unfair to Renters

(CN) - The Florida Supreme Court dealt another blow to the state's traffic camera program, ruling that it unfairly treated rental car drivers accused of running red lights.

The court ruled that Florida's skewed method of issuing tickets caused rental car drivers to be slapped with larger fines than vehicle owners for camera-generated red light violations.

The ruling affirmed a Fourth District Court of Appeal decision that rental car driver June Dhar's rights to due process and equal protection were infringed after she was deprived of a chance to pay the typical $158 fine for her red light camera violation.

Under Florida's traffic camera program, notice of the $158 fine would be sent to the owner of a vehicle allegedly caught on camera driving through a red light.

In Dhar's case, the City of Fort Lauderdale sent the violation notice to Dollar Rent A Car, and the company had to file an affidavit identifying Dhar as the rental car driver.

Florida law at the time dictated that in situations like this, where an affidavit of identity had to be filed, the driver was generally condemned to receive the higher-cost "Uniform Traffic Citation" for the red light violation.

Not only did this carry a bigger fine of $263, but it meant the violation would show up on the driver's record, unlike the initial $158 notice.

Accordingly, if Dhar had been driving her own car, she would have had the chance to pay the lower fine and avoid a smear on her driving record.

"We agree with the county court and the Fourth District that the unequal statutory treatment of short-term automobile renters bears no rational relationship to a legitimate state purpose," Chief Justice Jorge Labarga wrote for the court.

"No rational basis justifies treating short-term renters differently than registered owners and lessees where the gravamen of the violation - running a red light and being captured on camera doing so - is the same in each case."

Six of the seven members of the Supreme Court panel supported the dismissal of Dhar's ticket, with Justice Charles Canady dissenting.

Florida's red light camera system is largely on hold due to a separate appellate court ruling from Oct. 2014.

In that ruling, the Fourth District Court of Appeal found that the City of Hollywood illegally delegated ticket-issuing power to its private contractor, Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions.

City officers, as the court saw it, had little do with Hollywood's camera-generated tickets: they just clicked an "accept" button on a computer screen after American Traffic Solutions reviewed camera footage and formulated a ticket.

"In sum, Florida law does not grant the City any authority to delegate to a private third-party vendor the ability to issue uniform traffic citations. Only the City's law enforcement officers and [traffic infraction enforcement officers] have the authority to issue such citations," the Fourth District ruled.

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