New free-flow charging technology will be introduced at the Dartford-Thurrock crossing next year.
The new arrangement is expected to ease congestion and improve traffic flow.
This follows two consultations which received overall support from the public for the legal measures to support the new way of charging at the crossing.
Free-flow technology will allow motorists to use the Dartford Crossing without having to stop at barriers to hand over payment. Road users will be able to pay through a variety of methods including telephone, text message, online, and at retail outlets – giving motorists greater flexibility in how and when they pay the charge.
Roads Minister Stephen Hammond said: “The Dartford Crossing is vital to the local and national economy and introducing free-flow technology will cut congestion and improve journeys for the thousands of motorists and businesses who use the crossing every day.
“We are now able to take forward the legislation to make sure charges will be able to be effectively enforced once free-flow charging at the crossing is introduced next year.”
Nigel Gray, Highways Agency senior project manager, added: “The crossing continues to bring huge benefits to the economy, which is one of the reasons why there is such a demand.
“We are grateful to all those who responded to each consultation and we remain on track to introduce a free-flow charging arrangement in October 2014.”
The Freight Transport Association says the decision to introduce free-flow technology is long overdue.
However, the FTA has also voiced its concern over the possible lack of a completely effective charging system that will guarantee that all crossing users would be equally liable for charges, stressing that it is important that a system should be in place to ensure that penalties are enforced across the board for all users who deliberately try to avoid the charge.
Highways Agency figures suggest free-flow tolls could cost as much as £21m a year in unpaid charges, mainly from foreign drivers.
Malcolm Bingham, FTA head of road network management policy, said: “FTA has been asking for a long-time for plans for a ‘free-flow’ system at Dartford to be introduced, and considers that this is the appropriate way forward in order to reduce a good deal of administration costs for the freight industry in dealing with tolls, charges and queues at the Crossing.
“We need to be sure thought that the system will work. Undoubtedly, there will be occasions of genuine administrative error which should be dealt with in a sensible and pragmatic way, but there has be a robust system in place to enforce against all those who deliberately avoiding payment.”
Drivers will be encouraged to pay the charge before they use the crossing. But changes made as a result of the consultations will mean that motorists will have longer – now up to midnight on the following day – to pay the standard charge. The penalty charge for non-payment will be £70, with a reduced rate of £35 if paid within 14 days. If the penalty is not paid within 28 days it would increase to £105.