NewsOK: Oklahoma City News, Sports, Weather & Entertainment

Company with contract to catch uninsured drivers in Oklahoma faces legal challenges in other states

An image from a proposal submitted to the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council by the company Gatso USA shows a license plate-scanning unit. The company has a contract to catch uninsured drivers in the state. [Photo provided]

An image from a proposal submitted to the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council by the company Gatso USA shows a license plate-scanning unit. The company has a contract to catch uninsured drivers in the state. [Photo provided]

A private national company with a lucrative contract to catch uninsured drivers in Oklahoma using license-plate scanning cameras faces legal challenges in at least two other states for alleged breaches of motorists' civil rights.

Plaintiffs in lawsuits in Florida and Iowa have accused cities of trying to outsource police powers to the Massachusetts-based traffic camera company Gatso USA. The company is a subsidiary of the Swedish transnational corporation Sensys Gatso Group.

Gatso USA has signed a deal worth millions of dollars with the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council to catch uninsured motorists with license plate scanners across the state. The program was created by a state law enacted in 2016.

Uninsured motorists will get a letter in the mail notifying them they are required to carry insurance and charging each a $184 fee. In addition, motorists can also enter into a deferred prosecution agreement with the state, requiring them to obtain insurance.

The company will receive $80 from each uninsured motorist for the first two years of the contract, dropping to $68 after five years, according to a copy of the contract.

The District Attorneys Council's cut is $84 per uninsured motorist and the rest of the money will go into a state pension fund for law enforcement and administrative costs.

Gatso USA estimates its contract with Oklahoma is worth $2 million, according to a company news release. The company did not respond to The Oklahoman's phone or email questions about the new contract.

The company operates similar automated traffic enforcement systems for cities and towns across the United States, primarily in the form of red light and speeding cameras. The cameras have sometimes been the subject of lawsuits that argue local governments have unfairly granted Gatso USA the same power as a traffic cop to ticket drivers.

The District Attorneys Council says Gatso USA will not issue citations, but instead will charge fees to uninsured motorists at the discretion of county prosecutors.

"It's not a ticket or a citation," said Trent Baggett, executive coordinator for the District Attorneys Council. "It's a letter stating 'our records show you do not have insurance.'"

In September, the Iowa State Supreme Court took up a class-action lawsuit against the city of Cedar Rapids and Gatso USA as well as the case of a woman who appealed a $75 speeding ticket she claims she wrongly received after being flagged by a Gatso USA camera. The Iowa class-action lawsuit claims the traffic cameras violate motorists' constitutional rights by denying the due process and equal protection under the law. The Iowa high court has yet to issue its decision in the cases.

A pending federal class-action lawsuit that consolidated several state and federal cases filed by drivers in Florida, Georgia and Alabama accuses Gatso USA and two other traffic camera companies of unlawfully charging drivers with traffic violations. The lawsuit accuses the traffic camera vendors of unjust enrichment and deceptive trade practices, among other claims.

According to a proposal Gatso USA submitted to the District Attorneys Council, the company expects to install 26 cameras in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas during the first year with an additional 10 cameras in strategic areas throughout the state in the second year. Mobile enforcement units are also in the works. Gatso USA hopes eventually to have a total of 39 enforcement cameras across Oklahoma.

"Each camera will produce, conservatively, 15-20 captured violations per day. When measured as a gross number, the mature program could reasonably expect to issue 20,000 citations per month year after year," the company said in its proposal.

Gatso USA has advised the District Attorneys Council to limit citations to 5,000 per day for the first three months.

"Predictably, a high volume of violations will be detected in the opening months of the program," the company said in its proposal.

Gatso USA estimated uninsured motorist rates would fall to less than 10 percent in Oklahoma City and Tulsa within the first year of the program.

While Gatso USA projects the new license plate-scanning cameras will begin generating revenue in the second quarter of 2018, the system is still contingent upon the state updating its automated insurance verification system.

The Oklahoma Insurance Department is expected to issue a request for proposal in December to update and improve the state's old insurance verification system, which was developed about 10 years ago.

"We would be doing this independently of what the District Attorneys Council is doing anyway," said Buddy Combs, deputy insurance commissioner.

Related Photos
<p>An image from a proposal submitted to the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council by the company Gatso USA shows a mobile license plate-scanning unit in a car. The company has a contract to catch uninsured drivers in the state. [Photo provided]</p>

An image from a proposal submitted to the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council by the company Gatso USA shows a mobile license plate-scanning unit in a car. The company has a contract to catch uninsured drivers in the state. [Photo provided]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-cf8b4604ff9fd66d2bb853d2a7acaa1b.jpg" alt="Photo - An image from a proposal submitted to the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council by the company Gatso USA shows a mobile license plate-scanning unit in a car. The company has a contract to catch uninsured drivers in the state. [Photo provided] " title=" An image from a proposal submitted to the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council by the company Gatso USA shows a mobile license plate-scanning unit in a car. The company has a contract to catch uninsured drivers in the state. [Photo provided] "><figcaption> An image from a proposal submitted to the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council by the company Gatso USA shows a mobile license plate-scanning unit in a car. The company has a contract to catch uninsured drivers in the state. [Photo provided] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-36dd3240b6306200a02e4f6f28ec7dc6.jpg" alt="Photo - An image from a proposal submitted to the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council by the company Gatso USA shows a portable license plate-scanning unit. The company has a contract to catch uninsured drivers in the state. [Photo provided] " title=" An image from a proposal submitted to the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council by the company Gatso USA shows a portable license plate-scanning unit. The company has a contract to catch uninsured drivers in the state. [Photo provided] "><figcaption> An image from a proposal submitted to the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council by the company Gatso USA shows a portable license plate-scanning unit. The company has a contract to catch uninsured drivers in the state. [Photo provided] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-aadf7221506915ccc64f410d855c6fe5.jpg" alt="Photo - An image from a proposal submitted to the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council by the company Gatso USA shows a license plate-scanning unit. The company has a contract to catch uninsured drivers in the state. [Photo provided] " title=" An image from a proposal submitted to the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council by the company Gatso USA shows a license plate-scanning unit. The company has a contract to catch uninsured drivers in the state. [Photo provided] "><figcaption> An image from a proposal submitted to the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council by the company Gatso USA shows a license plate-scanning unit. The company has a contract to catch uninsured drivers in the state. [Photo provided] </figcaption></figure>
Brianna Bailey

Brianna Bailey joined The Oklahoman in January 2013 as a business writer. During her time at The Oklahoman, she has walked across Oklahoma City twice, once north-to-south down Western Avenue, and once east-to-west, tracing the old U.S. Route 66.... Read more ›

Comments