Each month, hundreds of vehicle owners make the trek to Illinois Tollway headquarters in Downers Grove or phone the tollway's busy customer service center to make their case against toll violations and fines for which they believe they are not legally responsible, toll authority officials say.
It can be a long and frustrating process that wastes time, elevates blood pressures and fosters public ill will toward the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority.
Now, there is a better and much easier way to contest toll violations that for a number of reasons tollway customers should not be required to pay. Those reasons include a vehicle sold or stolen before the violations occurred, or a vehicle that was the responsibility of an ex-spouse at the time of the violations.
Starting Monday, tollway customers can contest toll violations online at illinoistollway.com.
It's the first time the toll authority has clearly defined the circumstances in which contesting a toll violation is acceptable, tollway executive director Kristi Lafleur said.
The process involves downloading a form and mailing the completed, signed form and required documentation to the toll authority. The toll authority will respond with a decision, via mail, in about two weeks, Lafleur said.
"We expect that about 2,000 customers a month will be able to use this streamlined process online," Lafleur said. "We only want to collect (missed tolls and fines) from people who rightfully owe us money. So we are making it as easy as possible for people who are wrongly charged due to a misunderstanding."
The form, called an affidavit of nonliability for toll, lists seven reasons that vehicle owners can dispute violations, or they can list and describe an additional reason.
The seven listed reasons for disputing violations are:
The vehicle was sold and in possession of a new owner when the violation occurred; the vehicle was stolen and not in the owner's possession when the violation occurred; the owner was divorced and the ex-spouse was responsible for the vehicle at the time the violation occurred; the registered vehicle owner is dead; the violation was received when the vehicle owner was using a replacement I-PASS transponder; the violation was sent to someone who is not the registered vehicle owner; and the vehicle was repossessed and in the custody of the repossession company when the violation occurred.
The most common reasons that drivers dispute toll violations are incorrect registered vehicle owner, accounting for about 93 percent of challenges each month; and that the vehicle had been sold before the violation, about 3 percent, tollway spokeswoman Wendy Abrams said.
Divorce, stolen vehicle, repossession and death of the registered owner each account for 1 percent of the total monthly challenges on average, she said.
A vehicle's registered owner or owners receive a notice after three toll violations have occurred in a two-year period. There is a 21-day deadline to pay the tolls and fines, request a hearing or contest the violation.
Individuals who contest violations can now do so directly online. Questions about the affidavit of nonliability for toll form can be answered at 800-824-7277, officials said.
To successfully contest a violation and have the matter resolved quickly, it's important to mount the challenge before the due date listed on a second notice, which is the final order of liability, officials said. In cases where the toll authority rejects the challenge, vehicle owners may be eligible to schedule an administrative hearing.
Documentation required with the challenge form is spelled out on the tollway website. For example, if the vehicle was sold before the toll violation, a copy of the bill of sale or a certificate of vehicle title transfer would be acceptable. Likewise, a copy of a police report or an insurance theft payoff report would constitute proof of a stolen vehicle; or a court order or divorce decree transferring ownership of the vehicle in the case of a divorce.
In the case of a death of a registered owner, a copy of the death certificate would be required. However, if there are two registered owners listed for the vehicle, the second owner would still be liable for the violation, tollway officials said.
In 2012, toll plaza collections are estimated at $923 million, according to the toll authority. Violation enforcement is expected to add $40 million, bringing the year's total to $963 million, or 99 percent of potential toll revenue, officials said.
Contact Getting Around at email@example.com or c/o the Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611; on Twitter @jhilkevitch; and at facebook.com/jhilkevitch. Read recent columns at chicagotribune.com/gettingaround.