What You Need to Know About Toll Evasion

Toll evasion is on the rise due to the advent of cashless tolling systems. Here's how authorities are cracking down.
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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44 Thoughts on “What You Need to Know About Toll Evasion

  1. 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.

  2. If the first, overhead, camera can process the photo quickly, then if the license plate is obscured, there could be 2 or 3 other cameras taking multiple pictures of the car after it just passes through the toll booth, and those pictures can be relayed to a state police officer who is located a mile or two further along the road, who will stop that car, DELAY the driver a lengthy amount of time if there is anything wrong with the license plate, and then issue a ticket or if this is 2nd or more offense, arrest the driver and have the car towed and impounded. That will definitely stop the people from trying to obscure their license plates. Simple and logical.

  3. No one ever brings up the errors on the toll readers. Have been charged twice a few times. Had to fight the bureaucrats with my EZ Pass statement to prove that I paid and did not go through the toll twice a few seconds apart. There should be a class action suit against these errors that take a lot of time to correct.

  4. Laws that aren’t aggressively enforced are useless – vehicles should be stopped and ticketed and plate coverings immediately removed.

  5. It seems to me that if everyone just pays the tolls then maybe money will not have to be spent on enforcement and the tolls won’t get raised as much. Like anything else, those of us who pay the tolls also pay to “crack down” on those who don’t. Money that could go to road maintenance pays for finding and catching those who don’t pay.

  6. Where has all the money gone from the toll takers that were let go ? In the pockets of the officials that now want to raise the tolls ?

  7. NY goes further than the article states – plates are not permitted to be covered by any glass or plastic material – no plate covers at all. I used to write a lot of tickets for this before I retired (police officer) but more often than not judges either dismissed the charge or reduced the fine to almost nothing so that’s hardly an incentive to follow the law.

    1. Except that the process of having to go to court is time-consuming and beyond annoying. And there is no guarantee the judge will rule in your favor. Imagine going through all that and then still having to pay the fine.

  8. I have ez pass and was charged for toll on nys thruway. Then got bill by mail for same trip. 3 months later and still fighting them.

  9. I also paid tolls twice, when proving with receipts. Please don’t get a ticket with a rental car you may not get the ticket until 6montha later and its tripled. As much money as tolls make the roads are worst. Put people back in the toll bootha and you wouldn’t have as many toll evasions. Most who don’t drive toll roads every day don’t have Epass or what ever it’s called. Every 5 to 10 years tolls go up for road improvements, but none or a small amount are done to cover the look of getting the job done. Most of the money is either stolen by official and top office aids let’s talk about that. Most of the jobs to be done are written off as if they are done and the money is pocketed. Toll money is millions to billions to trillions a year, you never hear about money rolling over from jobs that was never done the previous year, but the same job is ticketed the next year for the same job. I say give the people jobs back and you have less invaders. It becomes a problem for the top Executives missing their millon dollar bonuses. Turn pike has been in construction for 10 plus years open your eyes people, places without tolls the job gets done in months to a year seems to be where the biggest crooks are nothing gets done in a timely fashion. The real crooks are the one’s sitting in office raising taxes which is for roads also ; and making new bill laws to rob the people. they get billions a year for infrastructure from state and federal, onto of the trillions they make from tolls. I see it as the crooks in office are always thinking of how to rob the people, there are crooks thinking everyday on how to get by to live from day to day. . Unfortunately the good is held accountable for it when the government is never held accountable for there wrongs. They don’t even pay tolls it’s a write off for them most write it off on taxes and its zero credit. One thing I ave learned over the years. When its government it’s always an excuse, but they tell you there is no excuses, so get those far invaders if you can and people wake up, the cost of living is only getting worst and the consumers are only getting less, look at your cornflakes looks the same but is less lololol !!!!!!!!!!

  10. Even though here in Massachusetts we have laws concerning plates being obscured and legible I see daily infractions of plates being completely covered by bicycle carriers and attachments to towing mounts with boxes on them to add storage space.
    Yet, they obviously are not stopped or ticked like they should be. Enforcement of these laws need to be addressed. Those devices should be outlawed, and enforcement should be mandated.
    No wonder the toll system is losing so much money!

  11. It’s amazing how people defend an unlegislated tax on themselves. Not defending those who get away with not paying but open your eyes, this IS an additional tax that goes up without oversight or justification. Show the financials proving the money coming in is less than being spent. You’ll never see it. C’mon sheeple, open your eyes!

  12. Perhaps instead of forcing high fees, compliance would increase. Scamming people to feed an overspending state is not sustainable. I, among many people i know, no longer use this overpriced road.

  13. To offset your toll avoidance loss of revenue; the State can implement a speeding fine based on the time a vehicle enters and exits a toll road.
    In addition to replenishing toll road revenue, it would slow drivers down to the posted speed limits

  14. Even if you cover up your tags the cameras can zoom in on your vin number either way they got you. PAY YOUR REQUIRED TOLL AMOUNT & be done with it. When the bill comes in the mail PAY IT!!! Failure to pay your toll can result in the loss of your car – license & registration. Oh & do not buy another car to replace the loss – The violation will be transferred to your new car including new tags & new registration. Skip tracers are also on the job to track you down.

  15. It’s also extremely irritating when you have already paid your toll, by going online as instructed on the bill, only to have them continue to send you numerous more bills. I think I actually paid one twice!

  16. People must be either destitute or just plain greedy if you can’t pay a $3 round trip toll in any of the three tunnels in Boston. I have a transponder and put some money in my account. I am retired so I seldom use toll roades but when I do, I calculate how much money to keep in my account. People who drive expensive cars and evade tolls? Shame on them!

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