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What You Need to Know About Toll Evasion

toll evasion

Nobody likes having to pay tolls, and news of toll hikes rarely sits well with the vehicle-driving public. But the fact remains that tolls play a critical role in our roadway system. They provide a significant amount of funds used to maintain and improve roads, bridges and tunnels.

Losing just a fraction of toll revenue can be financially damaging to agencies charged with overseeing said roads. Unfortunately, that is precisely what’s happening due to the growing trend of toll evasion. The last several years have seen an increase in the number of drivers attempting to evade paying their fair share of toll funds.

Here’s how they do it and how authorities are cracking down.

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What Is Toll Evasion?

Simply put, toll evasion occurs when a motorist illegally “bypasses” a toll without paying the proper fee.

It was a more difficult task back in the day, when each toll booth had a barrier gate that was only lifted when the driver paid their fare or had their transponder read. But in recent years, many states have begun transitioning to cashless tolling. Instead of toll booths, these systems utilize an overhead framework of cameras and transponder readers.

If you have a transponder, the toll process is the same as before. If you drive through a cashless tolling system without a transponder, however, the cameras will take a picture of your license plate. That plate number is then matched to your registration. A few weeks later, a bill will be in your mailbox. The cashless tolling process helps traffic move more freely and improves driver safety. But it also provides toll evaders with an opportunity.

More and more motorists looking to get a free ride are obstructing their license plates as they pass through cashless tolling spots. This can prevent the cameras from picking up the number and, in turn, motorists getting billed.

Toll evaders use a number of creative ways to “hide” their license plates. Many try to muddy their plates with dirt, paint or grease. Others use plastic covers on their license plates that can distort the numbers when viewed at an angle. These covers are easy to find and even easier to install.

The Rise in Toll Evasion

The increase in cashless tolling has brought with it an increase in toll evasion. In Massachusetts alone, more than 14,500 obstructed license plates were recorded by the state’s Department of Transportation over a roughly three-year period, from late 2016 to early 2020, according to Boston 25 News.

With tens of millions of dollars on the line, authorities are homing in on toll evaders. In May, the New York State Police, NYPD, New York City Sheriff, Port Authority and MTA announced a joint effort to crack down on toll evasion.

Through increased enforcement and sharing of information, authorities can track down violators after the fact. If you evade a toll, it does not mean you have gotten away. By piecing together other images and videos, authorities can often identify your vehicle and, if so, will flag your car.

According to the MTA, it tracked down 1,300 toll evaders in 2021 using such methods. The agency also claims to have recovered 93% of all toll fare owed by repeat offenders since 2017, a total of $43 million. “Protecting toll revenue is one of our primary missions, crucial to the upkeep and improvements of our infrastructure and providing support to mass transit,” said Daniel F. DeCrescenzo, Jr., president of MTA Bridges and Tunnels. “We are determined to continue to make progress against toll evasion through education and enforcement.”

Know the Law (and The Penalties)

Every state has a law on the books requiring license plates to be both affixed to the vehicle and legible. In Massachusetts, it reads “plates shall be kept clean with the numbers legible and shall not be obscured in any manner by the installation of any device obscuring said numbers.” New York’s law goes one step further, specifying that license plates “shall not be knowingly covered or coated with any artificial or synthetic material or substance that…distorts a recorded or photographic image of such number plates.”

If you get caught breaking these laws, it will cost you. Citations for knowingly obstructing your license plate come with fines upwards of $300. Repeat offenders can even lose their driver’s licenses and/or have their cars impounded.

What do you think about cashless tolling and what can be done to prevent toll evasion? Tell us in the comments.

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45 Thoughts on “What You Need to Know About Toll Evasion

  1. Most of the monies collected by these Authorities go to paying bonds which are backed by the toll revenue. The banks love this because they get fees & interest on the bonds. Read “The Power Broker” by Robert Caro. It explains this system very well.

  2. According to _The Power Broker_, a biography of Robert Moses, it was Moses who first discovered the power of tolls to extract funds from the public, because people will pay almost anything to drive as opposed to using any other form of transportation. Moses used this money to build more toll bridges and tunnels and thus get more funds for his projects. Other governments learned from him. What is surprising is that there is not much political resistance to this process besides cranking and grumping. Another surprising thing, observed since the early 1920s, is that the more roads, bridges, and tunnels you build, the worse traffic congestion becomes. So if governments and other authorities build more transportation structures requiring tolls, the more money they get, and the more tolled stuff they build.

  3. Why don’t States crackdown on stores and other sellers of the plastic covers that obscure license plates? Seems like one solution.

  4. I pay my tolls and never evaded the fare if I didn’t want to pay I’d stay off toll roads. I thought the tax on gasoline was to be used to fix the roads where is that money going. I’m not new to driving and the roads have been falling apart for years/decades.

  5. I do not understand the fairness in no toll booths. I rarely, if ever, use a tolled highway. If I have no choice but to use a tolled road, am I going to be forced to pay extra, simply because I do not have an EZ Pass? If so, then I am being punished for not spending unnecessary money on something I rarely, if ever, use just so traffic will move more quickly. Where is the fairness in that?

    1. I agree with you. I don’t travel tolled highways enough to warrant paying extra for a “deposit” EZpass (no interest income paid to me) or for using their photo system. Why not keep ONE toll booth for us to pay Cash?

  6. I have NYS EZ Pass . I was in New Jersey and as I entered the NJ Tpke, the sign said contact customer service. When I got home, I contacted my EZ Pass office. They did not know what the problem was but they sent me a replacement EZ Pass which worked fine. I was sent a bill with a large penalty from NJ. I sent a check to them for the tolls which needed to be paid. I did not pay the fine. I gave an explanation as to why. I just received a bill with two $50 administrative bills. It was NOT my fault that my EZ Pass did not work. It was a malfunction of my device which was corrected when it was replaced. I tried calling NJ EZ Pass put it is forever busy. What can I do? I SHOULD NOT be liable for a failed device. It was NOT my fault!

  7. A few comments.
    1. I called MA RMV on a person driving recklessly with an obscured plate. RMV said it was not their issue to have the material over the license plate removed.
    2. We pay a gas tax, vehicle tax, excise tax, registration fees, etc. Most tolls I have seen are on interstate roads that the USG pays for. Surely there must be enough in the fees collected to maintain roads.

    When one used to pay a booth operator the toll in NH, I always said to the operator Live Free Or Die My A$$!

  8. I have been blessed through promotion to reside in 11 different states in the USA over a 30 year and counting corporate career. Many with no or few toll roads and alternative roadways which were equally efficient for travelers. Now living on the East Coast, everywhere you turn it seems someone is in your pockets. Tolls, parking, red light cameras and so on. One ticket I received I fought and won. The “No Parking” sign was 25ft. up on the pole. Who looks 25ft up on a pole when they park? Camera phones are worth their weight in gold. Over the years, I have travelled back to the other states often to visit family and friends. It is nice to drive without the concern of being hit with miscellaneous fees. I wonder how other states keep their roads pothole free, parking garages properly maintained and so on without charging their constituents an arm and a leg.

  9. I got a bill when someone with a similar license plate simply altered one number on their plate.
    I had never been to that state, but I wrote back and praised the beauty of the state and how much I would love to visit and they left me alone except they still send me bills for zero dollars.

  10. Substantially, the altered plates are owned by police officers who avoid getting cited for plate obstruction by flashing the badge when pulled over.

    1. Anyone who is employed to enforce the law and also breaks the law is especially egregious and should be dismissed or removed. I started to observe this trend to see how many drivers are doing this and I am shocked, at one in ten cars are in violation. I drove through our local police station and found 4 cars with their plates covered, including an ambulance. I’m sickened by this.

  11. Suppose my vehicle breaks down, and I need to leave it far from home for repair, and I need to drive a rental to get home. How do I pay the toll? How do the authorities know to bill me? This happened to me, and I decided to avoid any and all cashless toll roads, but what if I need to cross a border or body of water for which there is no alternative other than a toll road with only cashless tolling?

    1. If you rent a car the authority will send the bill to the rental agency. Then the rental agency will look up who was renting the car at that date and time and send the data to the state. I know this the hard ward way because I got a letter from the state what I owed. But the problem was that the time of the toll it had then been re-rented to another person and it wasn’t me! But consequently I paid the bill to clear my name and then forced the rental agency to reomburse me because they screwed up as to who was renting the car at that time. Fortunately I still had a copy of my rental agreement including “Time out and time back in.” And by the way, I also told them they were sloppy reviewing their data because their OWN zip code was wrong on their letterhead!” Our company stopped using that rental agency because I wasn;t the only one that had issues with them.

  12. Stop using toll money to subsidize the subway system. It’s time for subway users to pay their own way. If that means a $5.00 subway fare then so be it. I don’t live or work in the 5 boroughs. I shouldn’t have to pay for others free ride.

    1. So true! My tolls should go to the roads and bridges only. Subway riders should pay for their means of transportation

    2. Tolls are stealing from motorists because they are overpriced. Why should ANYONE pay 16$ to go thru a Port Authority of New York/NJ when a similar tunnel (ie Baltimore tunnnel i95) is $3? Because $3 is what it really costs to maintain the tunnel. Seems like fraud and theft coming from PANYNJ. So, go on and don’t pay for a theft enterprise.

  13. This is a weak argument, “They provide a significant amount of funds used to maintain and improve roads, bridges and tunnels.”

    Tolls are probably the LEAST efficient way to collect revenue. The overhead is enormous. About 15 years ago there was a story about the Mass. Turkpike spending 70% of collected funds on administering the tolls, leaving very little for actual road maintenance funds. In other states, millions are being spend to put up electronic gantries that take decades to reimburse.

  14. It all start at the local level, most local and state police cruisers are already equipped with plate-reader cameras. There should be an enhancement to the software to alert the officer to the presence of non-readable plate as the car passes by, and they can visually verify if intervention (warning or a ticket) is needed.
    Also, National registration laws should be standardized. A lot of out-of-state vehicles are not required to have 2 plates(front and rear of vehicle) so if only one rear plate is required and they have bicycle racks or towing a trailer, they’re legally not at fault. However, if plates are required to be installed on the front of all cars, then the states can add front plate-reading toll cameras.

    1. Sam is right! The Fed. Gov’t also needs to require each state to do some kind of safety/emissions inspection for both the owner/driver’s safety as well as the public’s safety that’s driving next to this vehicle. These inspections might curtail some of this illegal aftermarket stuff put on vehicles and hopefully have a positive effect on motoring in the USA.

    2. My state requires two plates. There was a bill in state congress to change this to only one and it didn’t pass. So the babies unhappy with the results decided they’re not abiding by the rules and I see more cars without two plates now than before the vote, in defiance. These people are not being fined or pulled over, they are rewarded by bad cops looking the other way. I’m including the toll evasion tactics in this as well. These people should have their registration suspended and lets see what the insurance companies think about it.

  15. Use the KISS principal, KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID. Eliminate the millions and millions of dollars to construct, maintain, oversee, and enforce and all the huge salaries that go along with it. When there is a new registration or renewal, everyone pays a pre-determined fee, like $10 bucks a year. SOME PEOPLE USE A LOT OF TOLLS, SOME A FEW, AND SOME, NOT AT ALL. This should more than even out considering all the up front money we will save, and all the money can easily be accounted for and a little bit harder for our politicians and government officials to steal. If you need help figuring this concept out, contact me via email, I am looking for a job. Thanks.
    Thanks.

    1. Math exercise: look up how much is collected annually in road, bridge, tunnel, and parking tolls in NYS. Divide by the number of registered vehicles. Then get back to us about that $10 fee.

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