End to highway toll detentions was warranted

The Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) ended an unfair practice last summer that violated motorists’ constitutional rights as they attempted to pay highway tolls.

One driver even filed a lawsuit last month after he felt he was victimized by its authority.

Before the state ended the practice in July, some Florida motorists who attempted to pay tolls with more than a $20 bill were required to provide sensitive information to the toll booth attendant, such as their phone number, date of birth, race, address and gender, to prevent the use of counterfeit bills, according to the federal lawsuit filed by Joel Chandler of Lakeland against state transportation officials.

The suit contends that some drivers were questioned for using $5 bills, while others may have been detained based on race.

If someone was uncomfortable and refused to provide the information, they had to either illegally back out of the toll both or unlawfully drive through it without paying.

“They’re doing this without probable cause,” Chandler said to the St. Petersburg Times. “They’re doing something even police officers aren’t allowed to do.”

As Chandler correctly points out, the tolls created a possible conflict with constitutional rights.

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized,” states the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Merely using large bills to pay a highway toll is not sufficient evidence of counterfeiting activity to warrant detaining drivers and forcing them to provide personal information that could be abused by toll booth workers for personal gain.

All merchants across the U.S. who deal in cash must also worry about counterfeit dollar bills. However, most just use special fraud-detecting markers along with visually inspecting the bill for different holographic security images.

There’s no reason why toll booth operators couldn’t do the same without engaging in such outlandish loss-prevention techniques.

“I disagree,” said Floyd Holland, a loss prevention director for DOT in opposition to the end of the technique in an email to the Times in July, “but nothing I can do about it.”

Thankfully, more sensible minds prevailed, and the state no longer detains drivers or jeopardizes their sensitive

information without just cause.