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Crackdown on toll scofflaws to begin Tuesday

Saturday - 9/28/2013, 12:45am  ET

BALTIMORE, Md. -- Starting Oct. 1, drivers who go through a toll booth at a bridge or on the Intercounty Connector without paying up could face problems with their vehicle registration.

Under a law passed in the General Assembly earlier this year, the Maryland Transportation Authority will now issue an enhanced video toll, also known as a notice of toll due. Previously, the MDTA sent out similar notices, which only contained limited information about the location, license plate, and date of the unpaid toll. Many drivers found the document difficult to understand and that it did not contain enough information about their rights.

The new notice will be a two page document, with a picture of the car in the upper right hand corner of the first page, along with the date, time and location of the unpaid toll. It also includes a four paragraph statement about the document and what you need to know.

"We think the addition of an image will be quite compelling because you can not only make out the license plate, but you can clearly tell the type of vehicle that's traveling," says MDTA Deputy Executive Secretary Deb Sharpless.

There will be new information on how to pay, how to contact MDTA and legal defenses under the law to contest it. Those include:

  • Driver is Not Owner
  • Leased Vehicle
  • Dealer Transporter Plate
  • Car was Stolen

The second page of the new notice of toll due also explains how you can prove each of these defenses to the MDTA or a court to get the toll thrown out. MDTA provided a sample document of the new notice with an agreement that WTOP would not publish it because it has not been finalized.

Drivers will get 30 days from the mail date to pay the notice of toll due. If the driver pays, the case is closed. If the driver does not pay, then the MDTA will issue a $50 ticket on top of the original toll. The driver has the option to challenge the ticket in court or pay up.

"If someone ignores the citation, we will either flag their registration for non-renewal or suspend their registration," says Sharpless.

Non-renewal means that the MDTA will contact the Motor Vehicle Administration and a driver will be unable to re-register their license plate until the unpaid toll is paid off. Maryland drivers must re-register their car to get new stickers to put on their license plates or else a police officer could impound the car.

If a driver accumulates more than $1000 of unpaid tolls and penalties, then MDTA can instruct the MVA to suspend the vehicle's registration immediately. Such a case is rare, but as WTOP reported this summer, the top 10 scofflaws on the Intercounty Connector owe MDTA nearly $30,000 in unpaid tolls going back to March 2011.

"This goes into effect next week, so we encourage anyone with any unpaid tolls to contact us and pay up immediately," says Sharpless.

But what happens if the driver who doesn't pay the toll does not live in Maryland? The new law allows MDTA to crack down on Maryland scofflaws, but does not empower them to go after drivers in the District of Columbia or Virginia in the same way.

"If someone whose car is registered outside of Maryland traveled in Maryland and did not pay their toll, they would still get the new notice of toll due, then receive the citation with the fine, then we would refer them to the state's central collections unit," says Sharpless.

"We wouldn't be able to flag their registration for non-renewal or suspend their registration, but the central collections unit isn't a lightweight. They have their own ability to collect outstanding debt. One of those is tax intercepts. If the person from out of state files a federal tax return, it's very likely their refund will be intercepted to pay an unpaid toll in Maryland," she says.

In certain cases, collection agencies can also garnish wages or report you to the credit bureaus, which will lower your credit score.

There are no reciprocity agreements with neighboring jurisdictions like the District of Columbia or Virginia. So until laws are passed in both jurisdictions on the issue, Maryland officials cannot contact the DC or Virginia DMV to request any action against a driver. Sharpless says they've talked to their counterparts in neighboring states and she's hopeful that similar laws will be passed across the E-ZPass territory in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic over the next several years.

As far as rental car companies, most of them have paid up their unpaid tolls. Last year, The Washington Post reported rental car companies owed Maryland about $6.7 million in unpaid tolls since 2007. Now rental car companies are paying the unpaid tolls to the MDTA directly, then independently going after rental car drivers themselves to get reimbursed.

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