Washington State Fines Woman For Not Paying Toll Bridge Bill She Never Received

The way bills work, it’s a lot easier to pay one when you actually receive it to begin with. Otherwise we’d all be sitting around trying to psychically suss out where we should be sending off money and in what amount. One woman in Seattle was mystified to receive a fine for not paying a toll bridge bill she never got in the mail. The fine notification made its way to her just fine, of course.

The Seattle Times says the woman was crossing the 520 toll bridge, which features photo tolling. In that system, you cross the bridge and get a $3 to $5 toll bill in the mail. That had happened to her twice before, so she was expecting a similar experience this time.

She waited, and waited and nothing ever came. Until that is, she opened her mail to find a $40 fine for not paying for crossing the bridge. The original toll plus fees pumped her payment owed up to $50 just for that one trip across. Yikes.

She called the state, and officials there confirmed that the bills had never reached her, even though her address was correct, and the bill had been returned by the post office for unknown reasons. Totally not her fault, so she shouldn’t have to pay the $40, just the original bill, right?

Not according to Washington state’s rules, unfortunately.

“Registered vehicle owners are responsible for paying tolls and the civil penalty whether or not they received a toll bill,” the rules say. “It is not a defense to a toll violation and notice of civil penalty that the person did not know to pay a toll.”

The woman says she doesn’t disagree that she owes the toll fee, but the $40 fine shouldn’t be her fault because she never got the bill. So what’s the fine for — the state’s own incompetence in delivering bills, perhaps?

The Seattle Times called up the state to dig a little deeper, and was told that yeah, you should just know to pay your bill at some point.

“The bill is a courtesy notice — there’s nothing in state law that says a bill has to come to you,” said the toll operations manager for the Washington Department of Transportation. “Drivers know it’s a tolled bridge. So ultimately the driver is responsible to pay the toll.”

Yes, drivers do have a responsibility to pay the toll. But if a state is going to use photo tolling and most of the time send a bill, don’t be surprised when drivers actually expect you to be consistent in those actions.

*Thanks for the tip, Bill!

State turns a 520 bridge toll bill into paradox [Seattle Times]