New Toll Evasion Law Loopholes Must Be Monitored with Open Data


Congestion pricing starts charging in New York City on June 30th, and it depends heavily on license plate readers. Given the already rampant use of obscured and fake license plates, we were glad to see the New York State budget include new measures on toll evasion, including higher fines, and DMV registration suspensions for repeat offenders. Additionally, tolling authorities will be able to enter judgements without court proceedings to recover unpaid fines or tolls. 

Unfortunately, the Legislature and Governor severely undermined these improvements by creating a huge loophole that allows motorists to avoid toll evasion fines by immediately “correcting” a fake or obscured plate. We think this is a bad idea and will be widely abused. For example, we read the new law as saying that a motorist covering their plate with wrinkled plastic wrap – a technique we are seeing on the street – can avoid a summons or fine by pulling off the plastic in front of a cop or possibly sending a picture of the plate without the wrap to a traffic court. 

We agree with the Governor’s far more effective, original proposal to allow officers to immediately confiscate illegal plates and covers, then issue a summons. 

We anticipate this loophole causing serious problems for the congestion program and toll collection generally, and we urge the MTA and other authorities to collect and publish open data regarding the enforcement of the toll evasion provisions, including:

  • Number of summonses issued, and at what locations/facilities;
  • Number of corrections;
  • Total fines, outstanding payments, and judgements;
  • Unbillable data, including whether related to system errors, lack of registration, obstructions, or fraud, as has been reported previously to the MTA Board.

We also note that the fare evasion enforcement package passed in the budget requires detailed collection and publication of open data by the MTA. Within two years, the MTA will publish data regarding adjudications of fare evasion infractions, and warnings issued, including by subway stop, bus route, or other location. We ask as a matter of basic fairness and consistency that the same level of data be collected and published for toll evasion as fare evasion. 

To help clarify what the final budget agreement does and does not do, we are providing a summary of the toll evasion enforcement provisions below.

Higher Penalties and New Violations

  • It is unlawful for license plates to be covered by glass or plastic, or covered by a “ghost plate” – a material appearing to be proof of lawful registration, but not lawfully issued in NY or another state or jurisdiction.
  • Increases fines from $50-$300 to $100-$500 upon conviction of a violation of the Vehicle and Traffic Law regarding the condition of license plates.

Removal or “Correction” of Plate Coverings/Ghost Plates

  • Requires plate coverings or ghost plates to be surrendered or removed upon court order after conviction.
  • If a police officer sees a vehicle with an illegal cover or ghost plate being driven or operated on a public highway in their presence, they are authorized to do the following:
    • Issue a summons; however, at the discretion of the officer, the defect may be corrected in the presence of the officer.
    • The refusal of the officer to permit the repair of any defect shall not be a defense to any violation charged in a summons. 
  • Any complaint issued for a toll evasion violation may be dismissed by the court if the violation is corrected not later than one-half hour after sunset on the first full business day after the summons is issued, and proof of correction is submitted to the court.

Suspension of Registration

  • After notification from a court that an owner of a motor vehicle has been convicted three or more times within a five year period for violations related to the condition of license plates, the DMV may suspend the vehicle registration for a period of 90 days.
    • The DMV may also deny a registration or renewal from a different person for the same vehicle where the commissioner or agent determines the registrant’s intent was to evade the law, and renewal will defeat the purposes of the law. 
  • After notification from a court that a motor vehicle owner has failed to surrender a plate covering or ghost plate, the DMV may suspend a registration until notified by the court that the owner has done so.
    • The DMV may also deny a registration or renewal from a different person for the same vehicle where the commissioner or agent determines the registrant’s intent was to evade the law, and renewal will defeat the purposes of the law. 

Judgements for Unpaid Fines 

  • After exhausting other remedies, the MTA, Port Authority, NYS Thruway Authority, and NYS Bridge Authority shall have the power to enter judgments for unpaid liabilities, including failure to pay tolls, fees, or other charges.
  • Judgments may be enforced without court proceedings after a 30-day notice period.   

The new provisions will take effect September 1, 2024, and will apply to violations committed on or after such date.