TOLL-evading EastLink commuters were hit with $175,000 worth of fines in a Sheriff's Office blitz last Tuesday.
One woman was even asked to cough up $20,000 on the spot to avoid having her car wheel-clamped after failing to pay 74 outstanding warrants. The Department of Justice said she went to a bank and withdrew cash to pay it.
In an EastLink first, the operation was carried out using automatic number plate recognition technology, where cameras took images of number plates before drivers entered the Melba tunnel.
Number plates were then processed by sheriff's officers and compared against a list of vehicles with outstanding warrants or fines.
If there was a match, drivers were pulled over as they exited the tunnel and told to pay up or risk having their vehicles clamped.
A total of 3000 cars were checked, bringing inbound traffic to a standstill.
The operation identified 38 people with 614 outstanding warrants totalling $175,000.
Sheriff of Victoria Brendan Facey said the operation was a stark reminder that drivers needed to pay their fines or risk hefty penalties.
"While most people do the right thing and pay their fines early, these operations reinforce the message that you cannot ignore outstanding fines," he said. Mr Facey said drivers who continued to flout the law would eventually be forced to pay outstanding fines one way or another. "There are a range of payment options available for people who have difficulty paying outstanding fines."
ConnectEast managing director Dennis Cliche said unpaid invoices were something the company had to constantly deal with.
"We estimate approximately 1000 infringement notices per day are issued as a result of non-payment of EastLink toll invoices," he said.
"The small percentage of motorists who don't pay for using toll roads should stay off the road. Toll evasion is like shoplifting or using public transport without paying."
Initial toll invoices of about $15 can escalate to an infringement penalty of $141 and eventually to a warrant totalling $288.
More than $66,000 worth of fines were paid on site during the blitz.