VIRGINIA, USA — QUESTION:
Do police officers who drive on Virginia toll lanes need to pay the toll? If so, are Virginia State Police enforcing this?
According to Virginia state law, police officers can only drive toll-free "while in the performance of their official duties."
Transurban, the toll lane operator for 395, 495 and 95, controls toll payment, not the Virginia State Police.
Virginia State Law § 33.2-613 -- Free use of toll facilities by certain state officers and employees; penalties
Corrine Geller -- Public Relations Director for Virginia State Police
Mike McGurk -- Spokesperson, Transurban
Elisa Bell -- Spokesperson, Transurban
Eight miles of Express lanes opened up on I-395 from Springfield to D.C. in mid-November, sparking several questions in our Verify inbox.
"I want to know, are Virginia State police really enforcing use of the EZPass for toll payments on law enforcement vehicles?" a viewer asked in an email. "Or are they improperly extending 'professional courtesy' for fellow [officers]? I see take- home vehicles for [officers] all the time in the lanes, marked and unmarked."
Our researchers spoke with Virginia State Police, Transurban (the toll road operator) and looked at state law.
Under Virginia's free use of toll facilities law, certain state officials, including police officers, can drive the express lanes toll-free while they are "in the performance of their official duties."
"If a law enforcement officer is in plain clothes and in an unmarked car and traveling on-duty, that would be official capacity," Virginia State Police spokesperson Corrine Geller said.
"In a nutshell, they have to be in pursuit of their duties," Mike McGurk, a Transurban spokesperson, told Verify researchers. "Think about in an emergency, if they need to get somewhere quick, turn on those lights and sirens, no they don’t pay for these lanes. Commuting to and from work? They can’t use them for free in those instances."
So yes, there are times when police officers do, in fact, have to pay Virginia's tolls.
But can Virginia State Police give officers breaking the rules any special treatment?
That wouldn't happen, because Transurban goes after unpaid toll violations, not the Virginia State Police. Police departments register their vehicles and EZPasses with Transurban so that those on the job are not charged.
A Transurban spokesperson explained that if an officer is off the clock and takes a vehicle home, they're supposed to swap out their toll-exempt EZPass for a regular one so that they are charged for using the toll road.
Various police departments in Northern Virginia say Police Department Fleet Managers monitor EZPass compliance.