License Plate Tolls: Paying Tolls By Plate

Plate Payment Rules By State, Agency and Toll Road

An automated toll gantry greets drivers at the Selmon Expressway in Tampa
The automated toll gantry has become a familiar sight to toll road travelers. Boothless toll points require no people, and they collect all the data needed to charge a pre-determined toll rate.

License plate tolling is a cashless toll system allowing you to pay tolls using only your license plate. This all-electronic system is often called plate pay, pay-by-plate, toll-by-plate, or toll-by-mail, among a variety of other names. The name used will depend upon the agency involved.

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Regardless of the name, these plate payment options are essentially the same thing: You pay your tolls using only your license plate. Paying without cash, using simply a license plate, has become a common and convenient way for people to pay for tolls on the turnpikes, tunnels and bridges across the U.S.

Most agencies' systems work by taking a photograph of your vehicle and license plate as you pass a toll point. All the toll points are added to get a total charge, and the agency then mails an invoice, typically after a few weeks. Many agencies permit online payments.

While paying by plate is more common than ever, using a simple license plate for toll payments requires, literally, knowing the rules of the road. If you try a plate payment where it is not yet available, you could be facing a toll violation.

Not all toll agencies are yet offering license plate pay options. Some roads that offer plate payment may not be fully converted to a license-plate based, cashless tolling system. In other cases, multiple agencies are responsible for different sections of the SAME road.

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The Basics Of ‘Paying By Plate’

A sign tells drivers on the Sawgrass Expressway to keep moving through the gantry
Keep on truckin': A road sign reminds drivers to keep moving through the automated toll gantry on a local toll road in South Florida. Cameras and other sensors collect all the information needed to automate the toll charging process, making license plate tolling possible.

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Specific Rules Vary From State To State, But Some Universal Rules Apply

One: License Plate Tolling Is Still New

Unstaffed toll gantries have become the norm on many of America's toll roads and bridges. In places where all-electronic tolling has not taken hold, a conversion is well underway, and understanding how 'paying by plate' works will help avoid some common misconceptions.

The first mistake people make, of course, is to assume you can make payments by license plate on any roadway. You can not. Many roads across many states have been converted to cashless and electronic-only payment options, but some are only now doing away with cash toll collections.

Some roads have been only partially converted. This means meaning some gantries and exits will not yet accept license plate tolling, while other gantries and exits on the roadway will allow it.

Two: The Technical Part Of License Plate Payment

When you travel through an electronic toll gantry, one that has been configured for license plate tolling, camera equipment is used to take a photograph of your license plate.

Other sensors may be used to read the type of vehicle you are driving, the number of axles and, in some cases, the vehicle weight, all in order to determine the proper vehicle class, and the correct toll charge for that class. This happens at each electronic toll gantry you pass, where the gantry has been configured for license plate payment.

Three: How License Plate Tolling Is Billed

Many agencies permit drivers to pay their license plate tolls online, even before they get an invoice. Others, however, do not permit payment until an invoice has been generated.

Agencies that send a toll invoice will typically do so every 30 days, with a requirement that payment be made within a specified period. Toll payments may then be made via debit card or credit card online, via a payment portal, or by other means, such as apps, in-person payments at service centers or by mailing a check.

Invoices are mailed to the address on file for the vehicle registration, when they are sent. States and agencies typically will impose a registration stop or hold, that is, suspend the registration of your vehicle, if toll payment is not made within a specified time.

Four: Pay By Plate Rules Not Quite The Same In All Places

All of the basic elements of paying tolls with your license plate are the same: You drive through an unstaffed gantry, your license plate is photographed, your vehicle class is determined, and a charge is assesed. From there, paying by plate gets more nuanced from state to state, and even agency to agency.

License plate tolling is not even called the same thing from one place to another. In one state it may be known as ‘Toll By Plate’, while another calls it ‘Plate Pay’, the more search-friendly term. Then there are states that call license plate tolling ‘Tolls By Mail’ or, simply, 'cashless tolling'.

Adding to the confusion, some roads are managed by multiple agencies. In such cases, it is possible to get more than one invoice for the same trip on the same road. This is particularly true for travel in Florida, Texas and some Virginia roads.

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