Many years ago I went on a road trip to Texas with my son. He was sleeping when I realized I was on a tollway with electronic open-road tolls. I had no idea how to pay. My son woke up to me freaking out about blowing through the electronic tolls. It was dark and late. I couldn’t see any road signs telling me how to pay for unpaid tolls. If they were there, they were too small. I felt like a criminal on the run. I wish I would have known that there was no need to panic. Allow me to share a little tollway knowledge.
Paying tolls has become more complicated as technology has been implemented, ironically, to make paying tolls easier. Every state in the United States has their own rules for paying (and penalties for not paying) tolls. Stiff fines can be issued and imposed for each violation. You can try to avoid the tolls, but sometimes that’s not convenient or practical. There are ways to prepare yourself for paying tolls in any situation and a few tips that can help ease your mind.
First, don’t panic. Even though there are fines for not paying tolls, states usually provide a grace period; giving you time to pay the tolls without incurring a fine. The best thing to do is slow down, pull over to the side of the road (if you can and if it is safe to do so) and look for any signs that say something like, “Unpaid tolls? Call this number.” Usually, this goes to the tollway commission for that state. Make a note of where you are at. Some electronic tolls have numbers or names, for reference. Or, record the name of the tollway and the nearest mile marker. You’ll need this to let them know which toll you missed.
If you don’t call them, they will likely send you a letter along with a photo of your license plate. At this point, you may be given time to pay the toll without a fine; however, usually, the state will impose a fine (currently about $50 per missed toll) along with the price of the toll. So, it’s better to be proactive and contact the state first and try to pay for the missed toll.
The best way to avoid fines is to be prepared. If you know what roads you’ll be taking, you can look up the information to make sure you know what tolls you’ll be paying. There is a great app and a website called Toll Guru (www.TollGuru.com). With it, you can plan your trip and see exactly what the trip will cost in tolls and fees (for bridges or entrance to national parks). It’s a great little app and can really give you peace of mind as you travel.
You can also set most navigation systems to avoid tolls. This is handy but can make your trip a little longer. If you’re not in a hurry, this is a great option. Be sure to check your navigation BEFORE leaving your driveway to make sure you have set it correctly.
Another tip is to carry cash. My advice is to keep $20 in singles and a roll of quarters in the car. This should be enough to pay unexpected tolls and maybe even some unexpected parking fees as well.
If you are driving a rental car, be sure to ask about tolls at the counter as you pick up the car. Some companies have a fee that is automatically added for tolls. Usually, these cars have a device in them to pay the tolls, or they may rely on the electronic toll systems to snap a photo and send them the bill. Some toll-paying devices, like iPass, allow you to temporarily add a rental vehicle. I wish I would have known that before I drove 600 miles, avoiding tolls in my rental truck. In any case, be sure to ask the rental company about paying tolls.
To Sum Up
- Don’t panic, you can pay for missed tolls after going through them
- Use TollGuru.com to plan your trip
- Avoid tolls using your navigation system
- Carry cash to pay for unexpected tolls and parking
- Ask the rental company for their policy on tolls
By the way, I want to give a shout out and thanks to the following states who do NOT have tolls, yet:
However, more states are adding electronic or automatic tolls and bridge fees to help pay the bills. So, beware and be sure to be prepared to pay on the open road.