Disclaimer: cheating by "backtracking" via the Dulles Access Road for non-airport business is illegal. I don't do it, and you shouldn't either.

I was recently introduced to the oddity that is the Dulles Access Road (DAR), a free, limited access road running from Falls Church, VA to Dulles Airport via the median of the busier Dulles Toll Road (DTR). The DAR is designated exclusively for airport traffic, while anyone can pay to use the DTR. As you might expect, this has lead to people cheating the system. When traffic is heavy on the DTR and/or other nearby highways, or if a driver doesn't want to pay the toll, it is possible to take the DAR, loop through Dulles, and then exit the airport and proceed to the destination. Evidently this is enough of a problem that airport police and state patrol officers pull people over who cheat. (source source)

My question is, how do police officers know that someone is cheating? Imagine a scenario where two people: Goodwin and Bradley live in Tysons, VA. Goodwin goes to the airport via the DAR to pick up his friend, and then they stop at the Burger King in Oak Hill, VA near the airport. This is a valid use of the DAR. Bradley goes to work at the Burger King in Oak Hill, and to avoid paying the toll (and possibly to save time during rush hour), uses the exact same route via the DAR and the arrivals loop at Dulles. How would the cops know to pull over Bradley's car and not Goodwin's? Their routes are identical, and if Goodwin's friend is already out at the curb, their time in the airport will be similar.

For reference, here is the route that Goodwin and Bradley both took via the free DAR: Route Goodwin and Bradley took via the Dulles Access Road

and here is the route that Bradley should have taken via the toll road: Route Bradley should have taken via the Dulles Toll Road

  • Related travel.stackexchange.com/questions/163801/…
    – JonathanReez
    May 18, 2021 at 6:46
  • Both of your "sources" are dated 2013. I would hardly call this "patrol officers have started pulling people over who cheat"
    – Peter M
    May 18, 2021 at 12:11
  • 6
    I’m voting to close this question because "How do the police know?" is not a question about travel—It doesn't really matter how the police know. Furthermore, the police are not going to give away all their methods in an official way that could be sourced in an SE answer. Anecdotally I know there is visual monitoring of cars entering the airport, and suspected cheats are radioed in. The focus is on regular offenders, but that still amounts to thousands of tickets issued annually.
    – choster
    May 18, 2021 at 14:19
  • 1
    Yes, I agree that misue subjects one to possible ticketing and fines. What I am saying is that there is no evidence that it's a thing. No complaints about traps, no articles about increasing violators being ticketed unfairly, etc. The rules are the rules. The OP states they aren't asking in order to determine how to avoid. So, what is the purpose here? If you're going to Dulles or use some service available there, use the DAR, I do many times a year. If you're worried about getting caught, then you are violating the rules, in which case, we're not here to help you do so. Which is it?
    – CGCampbell
    May 18, 2021 at 14:19
  • 2
    The question could be useful even to law-abiding drivers if you want to know how to avoid behavior which is legal but might look like a violation and result in a ticket that you'd have to fight. May 18, 2021 at 17:48

1 Answer 1


How I presume it’s done:

  1. There’s a camera watching the entry and exit road - or just a traffic attendant with good memory and a notebook
  2. If a car shows up too many days in a row during peak commute hours, dispatch gets a notification and radios the license plate to a local police car
  3. They stop the car and issue a ticket if the driver doesn’t have obvious proof of doing airport business such as as a passenger or a purchase receipt
  4. If the driver chooses to fight it in court, they’ll now be committing perjury if they lie to the judge and most people are not willing to do that over a minor offense
  5. Police sends out a press release where they warn people about the enforcement which scares off most people tempted to try

Do some people get away with this? Yes, probably. Does it matter for the airport authority? No, unless it becomes too much of a problem.

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