The payment for use of the highways prepared by the Government has an ally that extends throughout Spain: the OCR cameras that read license plates
The payment for the use of highways and the highways have been discussed for years, but the Government has already set a date on which it would become a reality. According to the Recovery and Resilience Plan, from the year 2024 an alternative system to the current tolls will be implemented and for which drivers who make use of these roads will pay a certain amount.
However, the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda is already working on a system for 2023. It would be an annual ‘vignette’, a electronic system housed in the car that would be detected through systems installed on the different highways and it would serve to identify the car that is using them.
How the Government intends to charge for the use of the highways
Each country in the European Union has a different system regarding how to charge for the use of motorways and expressways. In Spain, fixed tolls are implemented on selected highways, while in Portugal there are charges for use on all highways. Our neighbors have a system that reads license plates and the charge is transferred to a bank account associated with the vehicle, or through electronic toll collection.
Other countries such as Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania or Switzerland, use the so-called vignette system. It is a single annual payment for which you receive a sticker or sticker that is placed on the windshield and that gives access to the highways. This vignette is read by the highway control systems and a charge is made depending on the use and the vehicle.
According to El Español, for the third quarter of 2023 the Government would implement a vignette system similar to that of the named countries to later, in 2025, move to a pay-per-use system, equivalent to that of Portugal but with a more advanced system.
The vignette system would therefore be a kind of pilot test to accustom drivers to the fact that motorways in Spain will become paid and will be charged electronically. A system that requires the installation of cameras that read both the license plates and the vignette. Fortunately for the Government’s plans, in recent years the DGT has been extending the use of cameras with a license plate reader throughout Spain.
According to El País, the minimum initial investment estimated to implement this system would exceed the € 1 billion, with the intention of obtaining an annual collection for the State of about 1,500 million euros.
What are OCR cameras and what are they used for today
The OCR cameras, the acronym in English for Optical Character Recognition, are prepared to read the license plates of vehicles, both parked and in motion. They are a type of cameras increasingly used by the General Directorate of Traffic to detect non-compliance on Spanish roads.
One of its uses is to check the condition of the cars that circulate. That is, to know if they have passed the ITV. Through these OCR cameras, the DGT can read the license plate and determine if that car has passed the ITV.
Once the registration is detected, this information is connected to a DGT database and check if the registration has passed the ITV, the active insurance or the DGT has some type of requirement against that vehicle. As reported by the DGT in 2020, it was detected that 1.64% of the vehicles that circulated did not carry the ITV in force.
In 2020, 30 license plate readers were implemented and its functions also include check that both the license plate and the windshield are unobstructed. A function that dovetails with the implementation of the payments bullet.
Currently these cameras are usually located on the sides of the tracks, on a tripod or on top of poles.
The installation of these cameras is also used to monitor low-emission areas such as Barcelona, where these cameras they check that the cars entering the area meet the age requirements.
Our car is already being identified and it is only the beginning
How does obtaining these images affect the privacy of drivers? Manuel López, chief of the Las Rozas Municipal Police, describes to El País what happens with the images obtained by the Madrid Police. It is explained that the number of agents who can access the cameras is very small and not even the boss himself has a password. Additionally, all images are only provided by court order, they are encrypted and after the regulatory time, the system records over them.
It is important that the collection of these data is carried out in compliance with the RGPD, since the AEPD has reiterated on different occasions that the registration of a vehicle is personal data, because “to the extent that a registration data can identify a natural person without disproportionate efforts or deadlines, we can consider this data as personal data”.
The reading of license plates through cameras is already done at the moment with the VIA-T or teletac. It will be necessary to finally see how the implementation of this vignette is carried out to manage the collection of the use of the highways.
Coinciding with the claim to charge for the use of the highways is when it is calculated that the DGT 3.0 platform will be available. In 2025, the DGT prepares a system to connect all vehicles. A large central database where information such as traffic conditions, possible accidents and information about the vehicle itself such as the license plate would be managed. A platform that wants to connect all the vehicles on Spanish roads and can serve as a welcome for the generalized collection of motorways and highways depending on their use.