Government proposes Big Brother-type motorway toll system

The government unveiled plans for a revolutionary change in the country’s motorway toll system on Monday, featuring a new Big Brother-style microchip attached to car windshields. The chip is just one of several changes being introduced on the country’s roads but the plan is particularly controversial, and in European terms would be virtually unique.

Photo: CTK
The Czech Republic is still very far from an e-state, but slowly steps are being taken to make better use of technology in day-to-day life. This week the government unveiled a revolutionary plan to put digital chips in the windscreens of cars using the country’s motorways, to replace the existing system of motorway stickers. The chip would beam a signal to a series of toll gates that are already in place on Czech motorways, telling a central system whether the vehicle's owner had paid their annual motorway toll fee. Karel Hanzelka is the spokesman of the Transport Ministry.

“The most important thing is that it will make it easier for the authorities to check whether drivers have valid motorway stickers or not, because at the moment the police just carry out random spot checks. So we’ve decided to use the present road toll system that’s in place for lorries, because the same toll gates will be used to communicate with these new electronic chips. On the other hand it will also be cheaper because the chips will last about 10 years, meaning that all the driver has to do is top up the credit each year, and of course the state won’t have the expense of printing millions of stickers.”

The system would also allow the police to better monitor the traffic burden on the country’s congested motorways, enabling them to divert traffic in the case of congestion or accidents. But the chip plan – whilst efficient and less expensive – has raised concerns from automobile associations that the authorities would be able to spy Big Brother-like on individual drivers. Others have warned that the chips – which will be transferable from car to car – will also be a magnet for thieves.

The Transport Ministry says those concerns are being taken seriously, and promises the system will be totally anonymous, merely monitoring the number of cars on the road and identifying drivers who use the motorways without paying the toll. The ministry is currently judging whether the system is viable using the existing toll gates. If so, says the ministry, the tender to run it from January 2009 will be given to Kapsch, the Austrian firm that administers the current motorway toll system for lorries in the Czech Republic. If not, the government will announce a public tender.