Monday, June 11, 2007

California toll roads: The 'FasTrak' to divorce court?

FasTrak meets Big Brother


By: Dave Downey - Staff Writer
North County Timea (CA)
Copyright 2007

Other than divorcing yourself from stalled, bumper-to-bumper traffic, divorce from your wife or husband was probably the last thing on your mind when you picked up a FasTrak transponder to cruise the express lanes on Interstate 15 in San Diego County and Highway 91 in Orange County.

Well, according to a story out of Northern California last week, divorce-minded spouses are eyeing another purpose for the wallet-sized plastic devices on car dashboards.

The Contra Costa Times reported that over the last two years, several attorneys in civil disputes, including divorces, have been subpoenaing people's FasTrak driving records. And records have been released. With eight San Francisco Bay Area bridges on the automatic tolling system, apparently someone deduced that records of when and where a person uses a transponder can help paint a picture of a lazy or philandering spouse.

So far, for the most part, angry Southern California spouses haven't followed suit.

Julie Wiley, general counsel for the San Diego Association of Governments, said by telephone last week that the agency that operates the exclusive lanes on I-15 has received "not a single request." Ditto for the 91 express lanes, said Joel Zlotnik of the Orange County Transportation Authority.

That's not to say there haven't been any.

Jennifer Seaton, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Corridor Agencies, said that twice in the last decade, lawyers in civil cases have asked to see transponder records for Orange County's toll roads. One involved a divorce, she said.

"It happens pretty infrequently," Seaton said.

It's not hard to imagine why no subpoenas have cropped up in San Diego County. I mean, what are you going to prove by showing that someone drove eight miles on I-15 in a county with several hundred miles of freeways?

I suppose one could make the argument that travel records for the 51 miles of toll roads, spread over four highways, might offer a glimpse of where someone was headed and, by extension, what that person was doing. I know, that would seem to be a stretch. But don't be surprised if more people make that argument in the future.

With San Diego County planning to build dozens of miles of toll lanes on Interstates 5 and 15, and Riverside County preparing to build them on I-15 and Highway 91, transportation agencies may have to get used to the idea of being asked to play Big Brother.

The whole idea is a tad disturbing, if you ask me.

Readers are encouraged to ask questions and submit ideas for commuter columns. Staff writer Dave Downey may be reached at (760) 740-5442 or For the latest traffic conditions, or to comment on this column, go to

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