- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2002

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) A car-rental company that used global positioning satellites to track customers and fined speeders $150 must stop the practice and give refunds, the state consumer protection commissioner said yesterday.
Acme Rent-a-Car of New Haven, Conn., claimed the fines were a deterrent, not a penalty, and were necessary to cover the excessive wear and tear on cars driven at high speeds. But Commissioner James T. Fleming said the amount was excessive and the company did not adequately inform customers in advance.
"Most consumers had no idea what they were signing up for," Mr. Fleming said.
Acme attorney Max Brunswick did not immediately return a call seeking comment yesterday.
Acme's policy was to fine renters $150 each time a car exceeded 79 mph for more than two minutes.
The consumer protection agency filed a complaint in July accusing Acme, which has one outlet, of violating Connecticut's Unfair Trade Practices Act.
One Acme customer, James Turner, complained that the company withdrew $450 from his checking account while he was on a trip to Virginia in a rented minivan. The company said Mr. Turner was speeding on three occasions.
The state said it found 26 customers who were forced to pay speeding penalties. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal called the practice "abusive and illegal."
Acme said its discount rental business depends on keeping speeding and accidents to a minimum. Insurance cost increases would hinder Acme from renting at less than its competitors.
But the consumer protection agency said the fines were far greater than damage to cars by speeding and were illegal penalties, not incurred damage.


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