Florida Woman Spends Night in Jail Over Unpaid Tolls
I stared at the envelope. It obviously came from a debt collection agency/law firm. I thought, Who in the world could I owe money to? Turns out, the notice was for a toll during a road trip I’d forgotten to pay just 60 days ago. I thought, That escalated quickly! Then I wondered if you could technically get arrested for an unpaid toll. So I put off paying my toll late fee by going down a Google rabbit hole. Read on for what it takes to get arrested over unpaid tolls and one unlucky Florida driver‘s story.
It takes a lot to get arrested over a toll
Long story short: Almost every law carries heavy penalties, such as being arrested, if you ignore it for too long. Why else would we ever bother obeying the law? But you would have to ignore a minor issue, like an unpaid toll, for a very long time to risk arrest.
The truth is that it is not the unpaid toll that will get you arrested. Even if you ignore it and rack up a ton of late fees, this financial penalty won’t translate to jail time. But, in some places, ignoring a toll can result in your driver’s license being revoked or your vehicle registration being revoked. And driving without a license or registration can get you arrested.
An unpaid toll can haunt you
Tiffany Santamaria found out just how bad an ignored toll can get when a family member deleted her from their shared SunPass account (the Florida version of EZ Pass). The written warnings went to her family’s address, so Santamaria was blindsided when she was pulled over for a suspended license.
To make matters worse, Santamaria’s vehicle registration was out of date too. She was arrested for the license and spent the next 24 hours in jail. “I had never been to jail,” she told CNN Money. “It was terrifying.”
Not only had she racked up hundreds in unpaid tolls, but she had thousands of dollars in fines for those tolls. To top it off, Santamaria faced a traffic ticket for driving without a license. Today, she has her license back. But she calculates that she spent $10,000 in fines, court costs, and attorney fees. And debt collection agencies that missed the memo are still hounding her.
Toll late fees are getting ridiculous
Obviously, you want to get your tolls paid to avoid a legal situation like Tiffany’s. But there’s another reason: toll late fees are getting out of hand. Now that many states and municipalities are using automatic license plate readers to collect vehicle data and send tolls by mail, more drivers are forgetting to pay tolls. And this has created an opportunity for multiple predatory agencies.
Many of the private companies collecting tolls are tacking on absurd late fees. Others pass missed tolls off to debt collection agencies as early as possible. And some are collaborating with states to revoke licenses and registrations to force people to settle up.
Here’s an example: Transurban is one of the many companies a municipality can hire to photograph license plates and collect tolls. And if you drive through one of their plazas without an EZ Pass, you get sent a bill for the toll plus a $1.50 fee. When does that climb to a $12.50 fee? Forty-eight hours after they issued the toll. Ridiculous!
If you wait until Transurban sends the second bill a month later, you’re looking at a $25 fee. After 66 days, Transurban kicks the bill over to a collection agency and tacks $100 on. The agency can add whatever fee it wants for its “services.” Everyone from deployed soldiers to folks moving to a new state have horror stories of fines in the thousands.
As a result, Transurban is facing a class action lawsuit and capping total fees at $2,200. Hopefully, this system will get cleaned up soon. In the meantime, you definitely want to get those tolls paid down ASAP. I know I will!
Next, find out whether you can actually get arrested for unpaid parking tickets, or learn more about how expensive unpaid tolls can get in the video below: