KUALA LUMPUR: You will commit a crime if you evade paying highway tolls in the future.
A new penal code may be introduced against toll dodgers using the multi-lane free flow (MLFF) lanes on highways and expressways in 2025.
Works minister Fadillah Yusof has confirmed that his ministry is proposing a new criminal law against toll evaders as part of the measures for the MLFF implementation in the next 24 months.
“This is to avoid leakages as we are looking into the provision of the law that includes a penal code and whether toll evasion can be considered a criminal offence since there is no lane barrier under MLFF,” he told FMT.
Fadillah said a new penal code and proposed amendments to relevant laws, including the Road Transport Act 1987, would be finalised soon.
“To have an effective vehicle tracking and driver’s record system, you have to connect with the Road Transport Department (JPJ) database. The relevant law needs to be looked at. There may be a need for a (new) special law, or maybe, the current law needs to be amended,” he said.
While it has been a complex undertaking in the past five years for the Malaysian Highway Authority to execute the plan for MLFF, including the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags rollout, he said the biggest hurdle was to resolve the legal aspects.
“This is the biggest challenge. We need to resolve this, including getting the highway concessionaires and other stakeholders to agree in terms of the (new) law.”
Asked whether the amendments would be tabled in Parliament only by the works ministry, he said: “Not just one ministry. It has to be done by several other related ministries and agencies.”
However, the senior minister would not say whether a jail sentence would be included in the proposed penal code.
FMT understands that the proposed move for a new law against toll dodgers is due to highway concessionaires’ heightened concern on the risk and probability of high unpaid toll under the MLFF.
The MLFF is a barrier-free toll system without toll booths and dedicated lanes. It uses a gantry structure equipped with automated number plate recognition (ANPR) at specific locations.
Fadillah said the accuracy of vehicle owner registration stored in the RFID stickers and system integration with JPJ would play a vital role.
“This will depend a lot on the ANPR and the link to the JPJ system,” he said.
ANPR is a system where car plates are identified automatically. This method is common globally for the purpose of vehicle tracking, law enforcement and electronic toll collection.
Other than capturing the vehicle registration, Fadillah said the cameras at the MLFF lanes would be zooming on the face of the drivers at the gantry.
“What if the users don’t pay when passing through the MLFF lanes?” he asked. “So, there must be good censors at the gantry locations and the camera image quality has to be very fine to capture the details of the vehicle and also the driver.”
At present, toll dodgers are charged under Section 8 of the Federal Roads (Private Management) Act 1984, which provides a fine of between RM2,000 and RM5,000 upon conviction.
It is understood that the concessionaires of the 31 highways and expressways have insisted to the government for the legal framework to be enhanced, and an effective mechanism of recovering unpaid tolls affirmed before rolling out the MLFF .
In the past, concessionaires had to resort to taking a civil suit action against repeat offenders, that included transportation companies in which their drivers had committed frequent acts of not paying tolls.
Last year, the Federal Court upheld a decision by the High Court and Court of Appeal to allow PLUS Malaysia Berhad to recover RM518,369 in unpaid toll fares and an additional cost of RM100,000 from a logistic company for toll evasion committed by its drivers involving 19 vehicles over several years.
In another instance of toll avoidance, a car failed to pass through a SmartTag lane during the evening peak hour traffic at the Sungai Besi toll plaza in 2017 and the driver was brought to the operation office for verification.
It was discovered that the driver had accumulated close to RM900 in unpaid tolls over several years by slipping through a SmartTag lane barrier by tailgating a vehicle.
In Australia, the ANPR will record the non-paying toll at the gantry or vehicles without RFID tag and a notice will be delivered to the registered address of the vehicle owner. The owner is requested to pay within a period of time via online or at a petrol station and selected retail outlet. Failure to pay will result in a fine being issued and legal action taken against the owner.
In 2011, a haulage service operator in Henan province, China, was sentenced to life imprisonment for the 3.68 million yuan (RM2.4 million) in toll evasion and overloading charges during eight months of driving or 2,300 trips by his two trucks.