STATEN ISLAND, NY — Hidden license plates cost the city and state millions of dollars in lost revenue, but how much could they cost New Yorkers caught in the act?
For years, motorists have come up with various ways to avoid receiving tickets from the city’s automated enforcement cameras and paying tolls on bridges, often bending their license plates or covering them with a plastic coating or artificial spray that makes them unreadable.
How many New Yorkers are fined for obstructing their license plates depends on the situation, according to the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law.
Section 402(1)(b)(i) of the Vehicle and Traffic Act (VTL) states that: “License plates must be kept clean and in such a condition that they are easily legible and must not be covered by glass or plastic material.”
A violation of this part of the law is punishable by a fine of not less than $25, but not more than $200.
However, the fine may be higher in certain situations, such as if the plate is intentionally blocked in an attempt to avoid tickets and tolls.
Section 402(1)(b)(ii) of the Vehicle and Traffic Act (VTL) states that: “Vehicle number plates shall not be knowingly covered or covered with any artificial or synthetic material or substance which conceals or obscures such registration plates or which distorts a recorded or photographic image of such registration plates.”
Section 402(1)(b)(iii) of the Vehicle and Traffic Act (VTL) states that: “The view of such registration plates shall not be obscured by any part of the vehicle or by anything carried on it, except by a receiver-transmitter issued by a public toll facility in connection with electronic toll collection when such receiver-transmitter is mounted on the exterior of a vehicle in accordance with the mounting instructions provided by the toll collection facility.”
Violation of these articles is punishable by a fine of not less than $50, but not more than $300.
NYC & MTA LOSSES ON REVENUE
Both New York City and the MTA have lost millions of dollars in revenue from unpaid tickets and tolls due to blocked license plates.
Last month, a new report from THE CITY found that New York City has lost about $75 million in automated enforcement revenue over the past two years due to blocked or incorrect license plates.
While the Department of Transportation (DOT) is not disclosing cases where city cameras fail to read the license plate of a vehicle recorded for an automated enforcement violation, a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request filed by THE CITY shed new light. on the issue that has only gotten worse in recent years.
The data obtained by THE CITY shows that from January 2016 to March 2020, approximately 1% of monthly automated enforcement violations contained an unreadable plate – meaning the vehicle in question could not be ticketed for the violation.
However, the percentage of unreadable images has skyrocketed since then, with nearly 4% of images having an unreadable plate in December 2021, the last month for which THE CITY had received full data.
As of March 2020, there have been approximately 1.5 million cases of speed or red light camera tickets being evaded through the use of blocked or incorrect plates, costing the city up to $75 million in lost revenue, with each automated enforcement violation punishable by law. a $50 fine, according to the report.
“Drivers using illegal license plates to evade liability are making our city more dangerous, while taking revenue from life-saving street improvements,” Danny Harris, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, told THE CITY.
The reported increase in automated enforcement evasion comes at a time when the NYPD is ticketing far fewer motorists for blocked or incorrect/missing license plates than has been the case in recent years.
During the first three months of 2022, the NYPD issued a total of 1,280 citywide record-related violations, a decrease of about 71% from the 4,355 of such violations in the first quarter of 2021, according to NYPD data.
On Staten Island, the NYPD issued just 29 violations for record-related violations in the first three months of the year, down about 84% from 180 such violations in 2021, data shows.
Meanwhile, the MTA announced in October that since the agency transitioned to a cashless toll system in 2017, MTA agents have issued more than 31,000 subpoenas against motorists with covered or blocked license plates.
In addition to more than 31,000 subpoenas issued since cashless tolls began, the MTA has also seized more than 5,000 vehicles because motorists repeatedly refused to pay their tolls despite previous subpoenas.
“Our law enforcement personnel are trained to locate motorists who have repeatedly failed to pay their tolls, and are equipped with specialized license plate readers that can immediately identify these motorists,” said Daniel F. DeCrescenzo Jr., president of MTA Bridges and Tunnels. †