etags: to drive or not to drive?

ETAGS: Will they change how toll roads operate?

HAVE you ever wondered what the penalty is for failing to pay a toll road? Back in my young and naïve days I asked my parents the question: what would happen if we simply sped though a tollbooth without paying? They had me believing that the tollbooth attendant would mercilessly press a button that would unleash a spiked barrier across the road in order to stop any would-be toll-avoiding motorists.

(Being about five years old at the time I swallowed their horror story hook, line and sinker, and have developed somewhat of a phobia for toll roads).

I felt this anxiety resurface the other day when I approached a toll and realised that I might not have enough change to see me through. Luckily I managed to make up the R6.50 fee with a collection of 10 and 20cent pieces I keep in my car’s glove-box, which I now call my “emergency toll fund.”

I’ve now discovered that failure to pay toll fees is treated in the same manner as failure to pay speeding fines. However, South African traffic officials are soon going to implement a system that they hope will solve what is apparently a big issue. This involves having our vehicles electronically tagged.

The unexciting future of South African roads
To facilitate the application of such a system, compulsory ‘etags‘ will be distributed to all commuters on our roads. These mutually exclusive electronic tags will be placed in every car and will identify it as it passes beneath a tollbooth.

The compulsory etags issued, and made available at petrol stations, will be readable nationwide and will be available in prepaid and postpaid form, similar to the options available by cellphone companies.

In the event that a vehicle is not fitted with an etag, cameras positioned in tollbooths will be able to identify a vehicle by its number plate. This will also allow authorities to track the extent of toll-route usage by particular vehicles with an added benefit of being able to monitor motorists’ mean speed as well.

According to,

“Roadblocks will occasionally be set up at on- and off-ramps, where police will be able to check users’ status. Should a user avoid using an etag or claim ignorance, the sensors and cameras installed in the gantries will be able to read and recognise individual number plates as a back-up method of identification.”

Not only will motorists on our roads now be unable to escape paying toll fees, but may also become subject to some hefty toll increases. Essa has revealed that freeway construction or improvements to existing freeways could cost anywhere between R25-million and R90-million a kilometer. This translates into toll fee rates, which may be as high as 50c/km.

Apart from this there are further hidden costs and issues involved. If you watched Carte Blanche a while back, there exists a current levy of 127c/litre charged on petrol. This ‘tax’ goes directly to the National Revenue fund, which government may distribute however it sees fit and does not necessarily apply to matters of transport infrastructure.

What is more worrying is that such fees and tax directly affect the operation of heavy road-users, such as trucks and busses. What this means is consistent use of toll routes could increase prices of public transport as well as transported goods (i.e. greater inflation).

For the majority of South African motorists driving is not an option but rather a necessity. However, it may be wise to start investing in bicycles once it simply becomes too unaffordable to drive.

Related article:

  • SA’s traffic authorities turn to technology in a bid to ease bottlenecks

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Galen (name), meaning: "Curious One". A lover of language, human ingenuity and the forces of the universe. Hugely drawn towards the mysterious and unknown. Regular laughter and escapism essential.

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1 Response

  1. funalaakie says:

    e-tolling is already a big thing in Australia, yet although the “compusory e-tags for SA motorists” was announced last year has anyone actually been subject to it?

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