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Can USA debt be enforced in UK for hire car rental agreement?

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Hello guys,

 

I went on holiday to the USA recently, hiring a car from a well known international rental company in Massachusetts - although the vehicle I picked up was registered in the state of Pennsylvania.

 

Whilst in the USA I made a left turn on an urban dual carriageway in the state of New Jersey - the weather was wet and it was night time, I approached the junction (which was lit with two overhead green lights and a green light on the right side of the road) with caution, in the appropriate lane, checked there was no oncoming traffic and made the turn. I noticed two camera flashes at the time but had no idea why or what I had done wrong.

 

Upon my return to the UK I was sent a letter from the hire car company stating that Jersey City Municipal Court had issued an $85 fine for turning left against a red signal. I e-mailed the company (htallc.com) and asked for further information, and was sent a web link showing me turning left where there was, in the upper-left of the video, a single traffic light with a red arrow pointing to the left on the far side of the junction. As of today (months later) I have noticed that there was also an overhead light on the left hand lane which did not appear to be switched on either in my violation video or on google street view - 2643 JFK Boulevard West, heading left onto Montgomery St near St Peters University.

 

I'm rather annoyed with this as before leaving for the USA I made an effort to read up on local driving laws and regulations and would never knowingly run a red light. If a similar junction existed in the UK I would certainly have contested the criminal charge in court on the grounds that it was not properly designed or enforceable. Furthermore, the red arrow is not included in the description of traffic signals in this particular states' Driver Manual (NJ page 186) so it hardly seems fair to require foreign drivers (allowed to drive for 1 year) to be aware of undocumented traffic signals.

 

Legally, I was notified that all criminal fines to the court had already been paid by the hire company and that they would chase the debt as per a clause in the rental agreement. My options now appear to be to: try and contest the original fine on technical grounds, undoing the payment to the US criminal court by appealing via htallc (which I am sure would cost a fortune and involve unwanted travel abroad to a foreign court with no guarantee of success); to pay the charges and administration fees levied or to simply ignore the charges as they have become a civil rather than criminal matter and may not be enforced in the UK.

 

I'm inclined to simply ignore the demand for payment (of just over $100) - can this debt be enforced against me in the UK, is it likely to be enforced and will non-payment affect my ability to travel to the USA or hire vehicles in the USA in the future? Bearing in mind I'm somewhat stubborn and not inclined to pay what I feel is an unjust fine, what action would you advise me to take and are there any unforeseen consequences of my current plan to simply ignore the debt?

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FWIW, since (recently) noticing that one of the red lights was not even working at the time, I have sent an e-mail to the htall company stating that I will not pay the fine on the grounds that the signals were never functioning properly in the first place. Looking at the Google Street View of the junction, the red arrowed light on the gantry does work, it was just dead at the time I drove through the junction.

 

If I remember to check back in, I'll let you know how it progresses.

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If the traffic camera picture used in evidence against you shows the light not working, then contest the fine with whoever took this to court. If there is no evidence whether the lane light was working or not, then just pay the amount due. The hire company have accepted the default court fine on your behalf and you have to pay it. Whilst they may never go to court in the UK to enforce here, they may just charge it to any credit card number you have provided or if they cannot do that, they may just add your name to a list making it difficult for you to get a hire car on your next trip to the US.

 

I have looked at the Google picture of the junction and there is a sign saying 'left turn signal' and there is a red arrow, which presumably changes to a green arrow, when you can turn. If you are not use to US road signalling, this would be confusing in difficult weather conditions. But all road users will be treated the same whether they live locally or are visitors.


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