Toll cheaters who use Maryland E-ZPass lanes without a transponder will get hit with a $50 fine and could have their vehicle registration suspended under a law that took effect July 1.
The Maryland Transportation Authority, operator of eight toll facilities, has begun the transition to the new collection process, which officials said will plug a loophole and allow them to recover as much as $7 million in overdue tolls.
"It's not about money," said Bruce Gartner, MdTA acting executive secretary. "It's a fairness issue for the 99 percent of motorists who do the right thing and pay their tolls."
Officials said under the law, approved unanimously by the General Assembly, delinquents will be allowed to pay their back tolls without fees and penalties during a transition period that will end in early October.
"By that time, we will have all the enforcement mechanisms in place with the court system, with the Motor Vehicle Administration ... to make sure we collect what's owed," said Deb Sharpless, the MdTA official overseeing the process.
About 10 of the largest violators — mostly leasing and rental companies — will have settled up with the state by the end of the month, Gartner said.
Evading the state's tolls had become a growing problem, one that caught the attention of state lawmakers last session. The MdTA acknowledged that annual losses had grown from $555,000 in fiscal year 2008 to $1.18 million in fiscal year 2011.
Under the new system, scofflaws will receive a more detailed notice that includes the date and time of the violation, a picture of the vehicle and certification of the information, Sharpless said.
"We are hoping that the new-look notice will encourage people to pay, that they will look at the picture and say, 'That's my car,'" she said.
Violators will have 30 days to pay the toll, after which the state will issue a civil citation and a $50 fine for each violation. Citations can be appealed in District Court.
Motorists who ignore a citation could find their vehicle registration flagged for nonrenewal or suspended. In addition, the matter could be turned over to the state's Central Collection Unit, which can deduct money owed from state income tax refunds or lottery winnings.
The new citation law also includes a provision for reciprocal agreements with other states.
The state has one highway, the Intercounty Connector between Montgomery and Prince George's counties, that collects all tolls electronically. The I-95 express toll lanes north of Baltimore also will operate without toll booths when they open late next year.