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At many tollbooths in the USA, I have noticed that there is a sign telling drivers not to back up. For example, see this tollbooth plaza on the Dulles Toll Road in Virginia ("CAUTION: DO NOT BACK UP / STAY IN VEHICLE"), or this one at the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, Baltimore, Maryland ("DO NOT BACK UP").

Why is it important for drivers not to back up out of a tollbooth?

  • Is this a safety thing, and backing out of a tollbooth is particularly dangerous?
  • Is this a legal thing? (e.g. perhaps cars are considered legally impounded upon reaching the tollbooth and the government requires payment to legally "release" the car, so backing up constitutes an attempt to evade a legal impound).
  • Is this mostly a tradition or done for historical reasons?
  • Is this done for some other reason?
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    It's a one way let of lanes to get to the booth, and generally no exit anywhere near you. Why would you back up? – Roddy of the Frozen Peas Feb 13 '18 at 14:22
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    @RoddyoftheFrozenPeas if you can't find your money or toll tag. Instead of sitting there blocking the toll lane searching under the seat for loose coins, you could back up and park on the side of the road and do it. – Robert Columbia Feb 13 '18 at 14:24
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    @RobertColumbia I think the idea is that you should plan ahead better. Backing up can cause accidents. (Where will you go? There's likely traffic behind you.) Most toll booths these days will have some way for you to pay later, usually online or by mail, although you may pay a hefty surcharge... incentive to plan better. – Jim MacKenzie Feb 13 '18 at 14:54
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    Having been in a car that was reversed into by another car in exactly these circumstances (although in the UK, not USA), such a regulation is certainly a good thing. – DaveP Feb 13 '18 at 17:50
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    @Jim that's something we don't have here. But we don't have many tolls. It's not an option in France either. In fact a couple of the newer ones use a very buggy number plate recognition system, for online payment. – Chris H Feb 15 '18 at 7:10
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Is this a safety thing, and backing out of a tollbooth is particularly dangerous?

Yes. Oncoming drivers may not notice that you are backing up, thereby judging their stopping distance incorrectly, increasing the chance that they will collide with you.

Is this a legal thing? (e.g. perhaps cars are considered legally impounded upon reaching the tollbooth and the government requires payment to legally "release" the car, so backing up constitutes an attempt to evade a legal impound).

Not as far as I am aware.

Is this mostly a tradition or done for historical reasons?

Safety measures are usually implemented for historical reasons. I suspect that before these signs were in use, people backing up at toll booths were identified as a cause of preventable vehicle collisions, but I do not know this for certain.

Is this done for some other reason?

Not as far as I am aware.

If you can't find your money or toll tag. Instead of sitting there blocking the toll lane searching under the seat for loose coins, you could back up and park on the side of the road and do it.

Another reason for backing up: you've entered the wrong lane and want to correct the problem by going to a different lane. Some lanes accept payment only with an RFID tag, for example. If you drive into that lane without one, what do you do? Many people would first think of backing out of the lane.

  • Reversing into traffic is explicitly illegal in many states, and treated the same as driving in the wrong direction in others. It can be a relatively serious moving violation; I believe in New York it is 2 points against your license. No court will accept "I accidentally got in the wrong lane" as a valid excuse; if someone accidentally took the wrong exit and backed up to get back onto the freeway, you'd expect no less. – choster Feb 13 '18 at 16:18
  • @choster yet parallel parking requires moving a vehicle in reverse against the direction of traffic, so it's not like there's some absolute prohibition against this that can never be violated under any circumstances. – phoog Feb 13 '18 at 17:18
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    @phoog True, though toll booths are usually on fast-moving highways (and with transponder-based toll systems, many drivers aren't even going to stop at all), where parallel parking is prohibited. – Zach Lipton Feb 13 '18 at 17:46
  • @ZachLipton of course. I was just reacting to the strong tone of choster's message. I suspect that many drivers would consider backing up a few meters to correct their lane choice as more similar to a parking maneuver than anything else. – phoog Feb 13 '18 at 19:20
  • I think the tone is entirely justified, because if you do back up at a tollbooth, any ticket you get will be precisely for reversing into traffic or driving the wrong way. If drivers think backing up a few meters to get into a different lane is comparable to parallel parking, then all the more reason to warn them off of it, considering they will be on camera. – choster Feb 13 '18 at 20:00

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