Joint Subcommittee to Study Photo Enforcement of Toll Collections
August 14, 1997, Richmond
A consulting engineer explained that "photo enforcement" works by (i) photographing the license plates of vehicles that use toll facilities without payment of the toll and (ii) recovering the unpaid toll and/or a penalty from the registered owner of the vehicle. The key to the system is a presumption that the registered owner of the vehicle was the person driving the vehicle when the toll was not paid. Where such a presumption is provided for by law, collections of unpaid tolls and penalties can be pursued either administratively or through the courts; otherwise, toll facility operators are limited to not much more than sending nasty letters to offenders. Statutes providing for this form or presumption generally include a mechanism whereby the presumption may be overcome. In states where some form of photo enforcement is in operation (such as New York, New Jersey, and Florida), the details of the presumption, methods of overcoming it, and the form and amount of penalty vary considerably.
Speaking on behalf of the Virginia Department of Transportation, the state traffic engineer pointed out that the department was already using automatic vehicle identification technology (AVT) to enable users of the Dulles Toll Road and the Coleman Bridge to establish prepaid accounts that are automatically debited each time their vehicle uses the facility. Use of AVT allows use of these facilities without stopping to pay tolls, thus reducing travel time and congestion while improving safety. Although the Coleman Bridge is equipped to use photo enforcement technology, the department has not asked for legislation required for its implementation.
Subcommittee staff reviewed for the members examples of existing Virginia law that contained a presumption that the owner of a vehicle was the operator of the vehicle when an offense was committed. Most familiar was the presumption that a vehicle's registered owner was responsible when the vehicle was illegally parked. While use of this presumption is infrequent in Virginia law, it is by no means unprecedented. Staff also alerted the subcommittee to other legal and legislative questions that the members should bear in mind in the course of future meetings and be prepared to consider if the panel should decide to recommend that the General Assembly enact legislation providing for the use of photo enforcement of toll collections.
It was agreed that at future meetings, the subcommittee would look into the administrative costs and possible burdens on the courts that use of photo enforcement might occasion and begin a more detailed examination of whether photo enforcement was necessary, desirable, or practical in Virginia and, if so, under what circumstances, given what conditions, and for what facilities. Specifically, staff was requested to request the participation of a representative of the Department of Motor Vehicles at future meetings and to invite a spokesperson for the City of Fairfax to discuss the city's experience with photo enforcement of traffic light signals under a pilot program authorized by the 1995 General Assembly.
The Honorable J. Randy Forbes, Chairman
Legislative Services contact: Alan B. Wambold