When we at the Wolfe Law Firm discuss crime, we usually aren’t referring to jumping toll. Yet one common crime — or rather, infraction — committed by West Virginians is avoiding paying the toll to use the EZ-Pass lanes along the 88-mile turnpike. New security cameras in the lanes at the North Beckley, Cheylan, Ghenand Pax toll plazas have been installed to catch routine toll jumpers.
At present, the lanes in toll plazas are unmanned and are meant for drivers with EZ-Pass transponders. Yet many drivers believe that they can keep going through the toll plaza without paying and without getting caught. The cameras take a picture of the toll jumper’s license plate and run it through a system that matches the license plate to the driver. The driver is then mailed a notice directing him or her to pay the toll and a $25 fine for each time the driver ran through without paying. Authorities note that while some toll jumpers do so deliberately, others who are caught claim that they got stuck in the wrong lane and had no choice but to go through the EZ-Pass toll plaza. People frequently offer such defenses when they mail in the fine, but it is unclear how much weight such defenses or appeals carry.
The EZ-Pass camera situation can be looked at in two ways. On the one hand, people should not steal rides on roadway lanes that are paid for by other people. It is not only thoughtless, but could conceivably lead to an accident. If someone is dedicated to sneaking into a lane and to not getting caught, he or she might speed up to unsafe levels, or be more focused on what is behind him or her than on what lies ahead. As a result, the person might end up in an accident that seriously injures the other party.
On the other hand, many have complained — validly — that tickets from “camera cops” are issued arbitrarily and often erroneously. Many of these complaints are reserved for traffic cameras that lead to larger fines than the EZ-Pass cameras, but the concerns would encompass the EZ-Pass cameras as well. Despite the complaints, most people don’t hire a West Virginia criminal defense attorney to defend them when charged with committing infractions. They assume that the cost of an attorney far outweighs any fine, and they are often right. Many people pay fines without ever bothering to mount a defense, assuming that the system is too stacked against them to ever win.
It is unfortunate that so many people are willing to take their freedom lightly. No matter how “small” the imposition of a “camera cop,” it is still a device that decides whether or not you broke the law. You never get to meet it, and it is never subject to doubt. To a camera, you are guilty whether you were pinned in the EZ-Pass lane accidentally, or chose to toll jump deliberately. And even though you don’t get a criminal record from traffic infractions, they can often be quite expensive and an imposition on your time. Even more problematic, these cameras frequently are wrong. In the city of Pasadena, California, traffic cameras were disabled after it was discovered that they made mistakes and did not do much to raise revenue — the biggest crime of all.