• Oct 24th 2011 at 2:00PM
  • 417
States are finding ways to get people to pay parking ti... States are finding ways to get people to pay parking tickets, no matter when they were issued (Instant Vantage, Flickr).
Patricia deWeever got a surprising notice recently from the state of Massachusetts, saying her license would be suspended if she didn't settle parking tickets she received 25 years earlier in New Jersey.

Huh? Twenty-five year old parking tickets? The state of Massachusetts isn't kidding, and neither are New Jersey and states and cities across the country which are turning to collection agencies that specialize in tracking down people who owe them money from the days of Ronald Reagan's and George H.W. Bush's presidencies. Those tickets were written often before such records were even computerized.

In deWeever's case the whole matter was very frustrating with alleged offenses and letters sent to addresses long after she had moved to new places, and not forwarded to her. Massachusetts was getting after her for five tickets received while she lived in Jersey City, N.J., because the Commonwealth has a reciprocity arrangement with New Jersey, which means each state will help track down and prosecute moving violations and parking tickets for one another when the offenders move into the others state.

No Statute of Limitations

While many states have a statute of limitations on prosecuting felonies, there are few that have such limits on prosecuting parking tickets and moving violations. New York State is one of the few, with a statute of limitations of eight years and one day from the date of judgment.

One of the frustrating things for consumers is that details of a 20-year-old ticket are sketchy or non-existent. The fines add up to a couple of hundred dollars, and most draw the conclusion that they will pay it rather than endure the hassle of hiring a lawyer, or pursuing a Byzantine process of challenging it. In deWeever's case, she will end up paying New Jersey $129 to settle the tickets plus a nebulous $100 license reinstatement fee, so she can legally drive in New Jersey to go visit her mother. On top of that, Massachusetts is also charging her $100 to reinstate her license in that state.

deWeever is already navigating tough waters in the current economic downturn, like so many people.

"While it's a lot of money to me right now, it's not enough to engage a lawyer to fight them," says deWeever. She claims kids in her Jersey City neighborhood were known for taking tickets off people's windshields. "I have no memory of ever getting them."

Private corporations track down the old scofflaws in exchange for a cut of the ticket revenue, so it doesn't cost municipalities anything to hunt people down. One such company is Massachusetts-based Municipal Management Associates (MMA). On the firm's website, it boasts reeling in $753,440 in uncollected parking violations for Springfield, Mass., over 17 months, out of a total of $5.6 million that was on the books.

MMA combines information it has given to it by the city that hires the firm and then cross references it with data it buys from R.L. Polk, which captures vehicle registration data nationwide.

Some of the measures taken by other cities and authorities:

* The New York State Thruway will turn over any unpaid E-ZPass bill to a collection agency. Collection agencies warn they will destroy a person's credit rating if they don't pay up on bills decades old. What is the price of ignoring? An unpaid municipal fine can take 100 points off one's credit score.

* Toledo, Ohio has collected more than $500,000 in unpaid tickets going back twenty years.

* The city of New Orleans recently said it is owed $91 million in parking tickets just going back to 2004, and is now pursuing collections.

Technology has been helping traffic police nail scofflaws. Jersey City, N.J., where deWeever's parking tickets were written, has about $10 million in unpaid tickets on the books at any one time.

Traffic police can use license plate readers to scan a plate, and it will give them instant information about unpaid violations. Serial scofflaws and people who owe a lot of money can get a boot on the car.

The Associated Press earlier this year reported on a man living in Knoxville, Tenn., who received a summons on a traffic ticket he supposedly received in Sea Isle, N.J., twenty years earlier. The summer resort town has had so many out-of-town visitors that old ignored tickets is a new and steady source of revenue. Out-of-staters have long felt they could ignore tickets handed out in small vacation communities.

Relentless pursuit

MMA has a section on their website called PayMyParkingTickets.com where people can check to see if they owe on any parking tickets, and pay the fines through the company's site.

AOL Autos called MMA and talked to an employee who would only give her name as "Tina." She and another employee we spoke to said they would not give their last names for fear of retaliation from the public about their business.

"A parking ticket is a parking ticket," Tina said. "Once you owe it you're always going to owe it." The spokeswoman said the company is "relentless" in finding people, and it boasts a 93.5% success rate in recovering the amount of revenue they chase down.

The company tracked down one ticket from 1979, the spokeswoman said. A man had moved out of state for 20 plus years and went to renew his driver's license. With the violation still on his record, he was forced to pay the parking ticket before he could move on with his new license.

A previous version of this story said there are no statutes of limitations on parking tickets. New York State, however, has a limit of eight years and one day from the date of judgment.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      Ticket should be defunct.
      Hank's Mom
      • 3 Years Ago
      GOOD. Too many people believe they can skate -- get away with not paying their obligations. Like -- some people we know who still owe on 50-year old college loans!
      • 3 Years Ago
      This is not news. Pennsylvania has been doing this for years, especially Pittsburgh. And guess what, even with that increase in revenue, they still blow it on increased expense accounts and are further in debt.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Sounds like a scam to me.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Well you know, legally there is nothing unfair with summoning a motorist with a 25 to 30 year old unpaid parking ticket, (to even include the appropriate late fees) because if the motorist is (was) actually guilty back then, he-she still owes the courts the fine amount, even after all these decades! Thing is, there's one problem. What if (number one) the individual has moved at least twice since then (where the original USPS Forwarding would be long expired) and has moved to a different state? Since 1986, I myself have moved 6 different times. In regards to the auto I had in 1986, I sold it in 1992 (when I bought a new one). If my "Municipal Court from 1986" (or DMV from 1986) tried to locate me at the "address I had in 1986", I really believe they would be "Out of Luck", at this late date. True my DL may be the same, but parking tickets to NOT record Drivers License numbers (just Vehicle Registration numbers).
        • 3 Years Ago
        the ticket actually goes to the owner of the registration, regardless of who was driving. and the registration is tied to the owners DL #.
      • 3 Years Ago
      These people have no reason to be upset! They are the one's who got the tickets. They should charge them interest on top of the fine. Yes, the local Governments should not have let these tickets remain delinquent for as long as they did. They are at fault for that. However, why didn't the fine citizens pay their tickets when they got them? It's the Old Saying ; PAY ME NOW.....OR, PAY ME LATER!
      • 3 Years Ago
      money , money, money! We pay them to protect and they need new cars so make sure to bring in so much money with tickets! I know this is true, my next door neighbor is a cop and told me to be careful in our area they need new cop cars! Makes you hate the system and also when cops say we are there to protect you and oh ya also to rip you off for tickets as high as we can go. I look to see what prices are it is crazy what speeding , parking, etc costs nowadays. Losing respect for all that used to have honor in our society knowing what the real deal is!
      • 3 Years Ago
      A change of subject for a moment...Re: "Seatbelt": it used to be that in California the police couldn't write you a citation for not wearing a seatbelt without violating another traffic law. Now that has changed and they can pull you over and write you just for not wearing a seatbelt. A motorcycle cop in Glendale, CA, hiding between parked cars pulled me over for not wearing my seatbelt. It might not be a "moving violation" but it cost me $159.00 !!!. I normally wear my seatbelt but the one time I forgot to put it on I get nailed. Pure harassment costing $159.00. BTW, the fine is regulated by the city, not the county or state. Please drive careful out there....
      • 3 Years Ago
      Well, just because you selectively forget to pay your tickets, it does not mean it magicaly goes away....silly article.
      • 3 Years Ago
      While tickets should be paid, there is something more going on here. While violent crime is on the rise and citizens are under attack from violent criminals , law officers and government entities are too focused on getting money and not focused enough on their real job; Protect the citizens of their communities. Why are government officials more interested in new ways to acquire monies than keeping the people who put them in office safe? We have enacted all kinds of new laws with fines to rape the citizens of this country of their income while at the same time refusing to prosecute the criminal element with the laws already on the books. The real crime here is not the parking tickets, which I believe should be paid, but the lack of proper focus and austerity on the part of the leaders of this country.
      John T. Ertz
      • 3 Years Ago
      And local governments and police departments say that tickets are not intended to generate revenue... Hmmm...
      • 3 Years Ago
      I wasn't even aware of the existence of penny auctions until about 6 weeks ago. Now I can't imagine buying anything other than food or clothing anyplace else. My favorite is at ( HTtp://tinyurl.com/AuctionDeals ) It took me a few days to figure out how to bid but now I am savings big bucks there. How they can sell iPads, Macbooks, HDTVs, Digital Cameras, Gaming Consoles, and more for steep discounts of 75%, 80%, or even 85% off retail price, I don't know. I do know that I bought my son an iPad there for less than $100 and my husband a $250 Loews gift cards for $48. Why would I shop anyplace else
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