Number of Hilton Head toll jumpers up, and so are their fines

astice@islandpacket.comJuly 27, 2012 

Drivers who ignore the toll on the Cross Island Parkway -- and then continue to ignore the fines -- discovered this week in magistrate court that those penalties aren't going away.

In fact, they just continue to add up, with one motorist fined more than $12,000.

The fines increased after magistrates discovered a state law last year that allows them to tack on an extra $50 each time a driver speeds through the toll booth without paying.

The extra fine, designated to go to Beaufort County, is added to the penalties already charged by the S.C. Department of Transportation to drivers who refuse to pay. Those penalties are $10 plus the toll for a first-time offense and $25 plus the toll for each offense afterward, magistrate court administrator Stephanie Garst has said.

The 100 motorists summoned to court this week were the second group of toll-jumpers to get hit with the higher penalties. Court for toll-jumpers is held about once each year in one fell swoop, according to a magistrate court official. Last year, 30 drivers were the first to be slapped with the extra $50 fee per violation.

Of the 100 summoned this week, 23 settled the fines before their court dates, and only six motorists showed up, according to court records.

Magistrates found the no-shows guilty and issued the maximum penalty, court records show.

The S.C. Department of Transportation tracks violators with an automatic camera that photographs license plates at the toll plaza. The department uses the plate to identify the vehicle's owner and forwards the information to magistrate court.

If the toll plus the fine isn't paid within 30 days, then DOT can issue a court summons and charge a court filing fee, Garst has said.

If the violators still don't pony up, their vehicles' registration could be suspended until they do.

For the Bluffton driver who has racked up $12,168.75 in fines for repeatedly jumping the toll, the charges break down as such: $1,243.75 for tolls due; $5,800 in DOT fines; $4,985 in civil penalties to be paid to the county; and $140 in court costs and filing fees.

Fines for the other drivers whose cases were heard this week ranged from about $1,000 to $11,000, court records show.

Despite the increase in fines, county chief financial officer David Starkey said the county's general fund hasn't seen a coinciding boost yet.

That's because, overall, fines collected from magistrate courts in the county are down this year, Starkey said.

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