Fake plates cost New York City $108m in lost fines

An audit report published by New York City Comptroller Brad Lander reports that the city missed out on $108m in speed camera tickets from people with fake plates (or obscured ones) on their vehicles. More important, such speeders were allowed to roam the city with impunity, creating risk for other drivers and pedestrians. Link to article by Charles Lane in Gothamist here.

According to Lander's report, 22% of cars caught speeding by the city's automated cameras were rejected as unbillable in the first half of 2023 because their plates were unreadable. The majority of those had so-called ghost plates, or temporary license plates printed off the internet. The next most common reason speeding cars were deemed unbillable was because their license plates were defaced or covered up, the audit found.

People aren't just covering their plates with phony plates or obscuring their plates to avoid speeding fines. They're also doing so to avoid tolls. The Port Authority has begun arresting such license plate cheats.

On Friday, the agency arrested Lequincy Anderson, a BMW driver who allegedly had a mechanical cover that he could lower while passing beneath toll gantries. He was charged with theft, tampering with a government document and possession of burglar's tools for evading 292 tolls amounting to nearly $20,000.

The city and state are working on instituting new enforcement plans to deal with the fake plates problem.

Gov. Kathy Hocul … included efforts to crack down on bad license plates in her proposed budget last week. She pitched a new state law that would allow the DMV to increase fines and even deny car registration from drivers with illegal or obscured plates.

"Not that long ago, no one would have thought it's okay to drive around with a phony license plate," Lander said. "We just got to get back to that. If you're going to drive a vehicle in New York City, you got to have your legal license plate on it."

In December, the city's Metropolitan Transportation Authority seized dozens of cars tied to unpaid tolls and fines totaling almost $1m. At the time, MTA authorities sent a message to license plate cheats:

"Our message today is simple. If you cover your license plate, even with a clear case, or use fraudulent plates … you will pay the price," said [MTA Chair Janno] Lieber. "If you're a repeat offender, your car is going to be seized, and you could get arrested if you have forged plates." 

"You can't put anything on your plate, not a piece of Scotch tape, not a piece of clear Saran wrap. Any blockage of your plate in New York state at any point is illegal, front or back," said [Richard Hildebrand, vice president and chief of operations for MTA Bridges and Tunnels]