x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Police seek out Dh70m in unpaid traffic fines

Police are in pursuit of the unpaid traffic fines accumulated by individuals and car-hire firms over 18 years.

The unpaid traffic fines are the product of 353,000 traffic fines, most of which were for speeding offences.
The unpaid traffic fines are the product of 353,000 traffic fines, most of which were for speeding offences.

DUBAI // Police are in pursuit of Dhs70 million (US$19m) in unpaid traffic fines accumulated by individuals and car-hire firms over the past 18 years. A special team has been formed to gather the outstanding money, the product of 353,000 traffic fines, most of which were for speeding offences. Police say car-rental companies are a particular cause for concern as many have a record of failing to pay traffic fines committed in their vehicles.

The majority of cases are from between 2005 and 2007, but some unpaid fines date back as far as 1990. Although declining to name and shame the key offenders, police say they are determined to see that every dirham owed is paid and a team of 11 officers has been on the trail of the missing millions since March. Car-hire customers are made to pay any fines they have accumulated when they return their vehicles, and so some companies appear to be keeping the money instead of passing it on to the authorities.

Many outstanding traffic fines are picked up when car owners renew registrations. Some hire companies are operating unregistered cars rather than face paying outstanding debts. "Rental companies have multiple cars and their cars are being driven all the time and that causes the accumulation of so many fines," said Capt Ahmed Atiq Ejtibi. Police warn of dire consequences for companies that fail to pay up soon. "We hope that those involved will come forward to clear their debts or else they will be forced to face the consequences, which can include closing down their business," Capt Ejtibi said.

Companies also face losing their vehicles. Three firms with a combined debt of nearly Dh1m began making payments last month, after the police task force impounded five top-end cars. "We removed two Range Rovers, two BMWs and a Porsche Cayenne between the three companies," said Capt Ejtibi. "They all had expired registrations. "The companies have been able to pay Dh400,000 in total as first payments so far. But one company, which also has 74 cars with expired registrations, still did not make any payments towards its Dh400,000 debt, and it will be forced to shut down if payments do not start to be made soon."

Some company owners said they could not afford to make payments, said Capt Ejtibi, but this was an unconvincing defence as customers were always made to pay any outstanding fines. "The companies have been approached and warned," he said. "Most promise to pay and others say that they cannot afford it and need more time, but then continue avoiding to pay." Some companies, he said, "decide to pocket the money they receive instead of making payments".

Violators are warned and then given a grace period of up to three months to settle payments. If that fails, a tougher approach is taken. "The team follows and tracks cars with offences of six months and more," Capt Ejtibi said. "They are being monitored daily and undercover police visit car rental companies twice a month. "They observe and look for the location of violating and wanted vehicles.

"Once located, the cranes are brought in and impound the cars." Mr Ejtibi said some companies continued to use illegal cars by hiring them out to often unwitting customers. "Customers who rent a car should take the responsibility to check the car's registration and whether the car is insured before they hire a vehicle to avoid being stuck in a situation they don't need to be in," he said. Capt Ejtibi warned that insurance alone did not guarantee that the vehicle could be driven legally on the road. "Some cars are insured yet have an expired registration. Owners avoid renewing the registration because they do not want to pay the hefty fines, yet some private insurance companies will renew the insurance without proper registration."

Tracking down those responsible was not always a straightforward job. The team has found that some car-rental firms have closed down or changed their telephone number. "Some of the companies we are trying to reach don't even exist anymore," said Capt Ejtibi. "There are about 20 car-rental companies registered in our database that no longer exist." Moreover, some of the vehicles also no longer existed.

"Some owners don't even know where some of their vehicles are. They are usually old cars that perhaps have been abandoned or sold as scrap but they still need to pay their fines." Police say there are 4,000 car-rental vehicles with expired registrations in Dubai. "Vehicles with expired registrations are being caught on the roads every day; some belong to car-rental companies, some to other companies and others to members of the public," said Capt Ejtibi.

"However, now everyone should know that this team is out there, dedicated to one job, which is targeting anyone who fails to pay their fines." @Email:rabubaker@thenational.ae