Tuesday, November 15, 2005

So much for the idea of having cameras handle traffic cop duties; Pennsylvania and New Jersey have been mistakenly ticketing Nebraska motorists for toll violations even though many have not been near there Journal Star.com A mix-up involving license plate numbers has Nebraskans erroneously getting tickets for traffic violations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, among other states. For the past 18 months, about 20 to 30 tickets from other states have been issued each week to Nebraskans for skipping tolls and other violations, said Beverly Neth, director of the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles. The problem is that the Nebraskans were not in the other states, Neth said. "It's just a mix-up, plain and simple," Neth said. The problem is how Nebraska issues numbers. The state's numbering system allows for sequences to be repeated in both commercial and personal vehicles. In fact, up to 13 different vehicles, which could be farm trucks, commercial pickups or standard automobiles, could have the same sequence of numbers, Neth said. Neth said in most cases the culprit appears to be a tractor-trailer from Nebraska, which is supposed to be allowed through the tolls without stopping. But it still has its picture taken by a camera at the booth. The problem, Neth said, is that some private companies hired to track toll skippers had Nebraska's standard automobile registration information but they did not purchase the state's commercial vehicle information. What it adds up to is regular Nebraska motorists getting tickets for about $30 for not paying tolls, Neth said. Neth said the problem only affects Nebraskans from counties that are still designated with a number on their license plates, which would be any county except for Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy. Starting in September, Mildred and Gene Stava of Hay Springs, which is 335 miles northwest of Lincoln, received more than 20 tickets from the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. On some of the tickets was a picture of a Nebraska license plate with the number 61380. Mildred Stava said the vehicle pictured was obviously a tractor-trailer. The license plate number on the Stava's 1994 Ford pickup is 61-380. "We haven't been on the New Jersey Turnpike in 40 years," Stava said. "I don't think I want to go back." After several weeks of talking to turnpike officials, the tickets have stopped coming, Stava said. The New Jersey Turnpike Authority also sent the Stavas a letter of apology. But getting the tickets at all was disconcerting, she said. "I became more and more angry because it couldn't get resolved," said Stava, 75. "I began to feel like we were being harassed." A call to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority was not immediately returned Monday. While there still may be some tickets getting issued erroneously, Pennsylvania's problem with Nebraska plates was worse a couple of years ago, said Ed Capone, communications director with the Pennsylvania Turnpike Authority. Nebraska's policy of having more than one set of plates with the same number sequence took some getting used to for Pennsylvania officials, but Capone said, most of the kinks have been worked out. The problem in New Jersey should decrease because the companies that look for toll violations now have access to Nebraska's entire vehicle registration database, Neth said. Also, New Jersey recently started letting the Nebraska DMV review citation information before notices are sent, Neth said. Neth said Nebraskans who believe they are being ticketed erroneously should contact the DMV. Simply ignoring the tickets could be dangerous, Neth said, because if they go unresolved they could damage a driver's record and even result in revocations. "It's never really good to ignore a ticket of any kind," Neth said.

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