License plate fraud a growing problem

Last summer I wrote a column about drivers who were using fake license plates or were purposefully obstructing their license plates to avoid paying tolls. Much of the focus around license plate fraud and “ghost vehicles” has been concentrated in the New York City area, which boasts a higher saturation of toll roads and bridges.

As reported in a recent article in the Albany Times Union, toll evasion is also rampant upstate, according to officials with the New York Thruway Authority. Frank G. Hoare, the newly confirmed executive director of the state Thruway, recently told members of the Senate Transportation Committee that the Thruway lost approximately $40 million last year in toll violations, though he pointed to out-of-state trucking companies from New Jersey, Ohio and Illinois as the major culprits.

A small portion of “un-billable” transactions are due to maliciously obstructed plates, according to data provided by the Thruway Authority, which oversees the 500-mile interstate running from the Bronx to Chautauqua County and relies extensively on the revenue collected from tolls for its budget.

“The level of toll evasion is concerning to everyone. The fact that people are being extremely creative to avoid paying tolls is disturbing,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins recently said, according to the Times Union article.

Cathy Sheridan, president of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) Bridges and Tunnels division, told MTA board members last month that the percent of “un-billable transactions” due to unregistered, obstructed, or fraudulent plates have all increased since 2019.

But the damage can extend beyond just tolls, Sheridan said. Scofflaws also tend to evade security cameras, red light cameras, and speed cameras. They are often the same people who drive uninsured vehicles and “commit serious crimes,” she said.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has floated several proposals to crack down on the proliferation of fraudulent registrations and devices that block toll scanners from reading license plates, according to the Times Union article. Among those proposals: Increasing the criminal penalty for toll violations, allowing police to arrest people for using mechanical or electronic devices for license plate fraud, and increasing fines up to $500 for obstructed plates.

While we are discussing fake license plates, be advised that section 402(1)(b) of the state Vehicle and Traffic Law makes it illegal to cover your plates with glass or any plastic material, or any coating with artificial or synthetic material or substance that conceals or obscures those number plates or that distorts a recorded or photographic image of such plates.


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