Money-hungry States Lining Up to Tax Self-driving Cars (Just Like EVs)

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
money hungry states lining up to tax self driving cars just like evs

There’s few things people living in the U.S. can agree on, but one of those things is the state of American road infrastructure. For the most part, it sucks. Eisenhower’s long gone, but his network of interstate highways, plus the spiderweb of two-lane roadways cross-crossing every corner of America haven’t grown better with age.

Meanwhile, the U.S. federal gas tax remains unchanged since its last hike in 1993. Still locked at 18.4 cents per gallon, the infrastructure funding shortfall created by the static federal tax is spurring states to pass their own gas tax increases. Michigan, California, and — controversially — New Jersey are among the most recent examples.

Still, boosting prices at the pumps only works if drivers still visit those pumps. What of the coming self-driving car wave, the vanguard of which are high-tech electric vehicles piloted by mere humans? Enter the taxman and his slim book of ideas.

Whether you choose to believe it or not, many predict autonomous vehicles becoming the norm one day. And, because our future robot world oozes eco-consciousness, those pilotless cars, whether they’re Fords or Chevrolets or branded with a name commonly associated with computers and mobile devices, will surely avoid gasoline and diesel at all costs.

Great for the environment, assuming the power grid’s clean. Awful for state and federal coffers. Regardless of what powers the vehicle (and who — or what — drives it), roads require frequent mending, and owners of gas-powered vehicles aren’t likely to take kindly to politicians proposing the double-tap taxation of gas taxes and road tolls to cover their zero-emission compatriots.

With this in mind, state lawmakers are already getting the jump on the potential robot pod revolution. Tennessee has already passed a law calling for a one-cent-per-mile tax (or “fee,” in government parlance) on self-driving cars. Autonomous trucks with more than two axles? 2.6 cents per mile.

In Massachusetts, proposed legislation calls for a 2.5-cent-per-mile tax on self-driving cars. Not quite as relaxing knowing there’s a meter’s running, is it? As the technology advances, other states are sure to follow. Still, the issue seems to be more about fossil fuel-free driving than human-free driving, and the resulting loss of tax revenue.

States are on top of that, too.

California’s hefty road repair bill, passed earlier this year, contains pain for all kinds of drivers. Besides increasing the state’s gas tax by 12 cents per gallon, the legislation raises vehicle registration fees and imposes a $100-per-year “fee” on zero emission vehicles (meaning both electric cars and the tiny smattering of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles). The EV tax goes into effect in 2020.

Elsewhere in the union, 16 other states have already enacted an electric vehicle fee to cover the gas tax shortfall. Some decided state-level tax credits or other taxpayer-funded EV incentives should disappear before applying a fixed charge. Georgia dropped its $5,000 tax credit in 2015, with a corresponding nosedive in EV sales. Across the Atlantic, Denmark saw a similar sale splunge.

Environmental advocates have slammed the imposing of EV fees, just as autonomous vehicle proponents aren’t too keen on the per-mile tax. John Maddox, president and CEO of the American Center for Mobility, an autonomous vehicle testing facility in Ypsilanti, Michigan, is calling for a national strategy on how to fun road repairs, rather than a piecemeal strategy that differs across state lines.

Should the federal government choose to not renew the $7,500 EV tax credit, automakers will quickly see what demand for EVs looks like when lawmakers treat them like ordinary vehicles. As for self-driving cars, when or if they take over our roads, it’s a sure thing that drivers and fleet operators won’t be spared from doing their civic duty — forking it over.

[Sources: CNBC, The Detroit News] [Image: 410(k) 2012/ Flickr ( CC BY-SA 2.0)]

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3 of 25 comments
  • Erikstrawn Erikstrawn on Aug 22, 2017

    Tax gas per gallon and electricity per kw/h. Done. It might even cause us to think a little more about the power we use at home. Very few people whine then they're electric bill is high, but add a little tax to it and they'll suddenly scream in horror and start working every little power saving scheme they can find.

  • IBx1 IBx1 on Aug 22, 2017

    "the infrastructure funding shortfall created by unlimited-term politicians siphoning money away from taxes that were meant to rebuild our roads and bridges" Fixed that for you.

    • Stingray65 Stingray65 on Aug 22, 2017

      Yes - Mass transit gets about 16% of fuel taxes, but carries 2-4% of traffic. Bike trails also get multiples of their use from fuel taxes. Then add in "prevailing wage" laws that force inflated union wage levels for road construction, 5-10 years of "environmental impact" studies and environmental lawsuits on any new highway construction, and you can see why roads don't get maintained or expanded. Whatever new funding source is used - politicians will certainly find ways to make sure it is spent inefficiently and come back asking for more - 1 cent per mile will soon become 10, and they will still say the increase is to help save the environment, even if 90% of the vehicles are "clean" electrics.

  • 28-Cars-Later Just two more weeks.
  • Cprescott Before they take their first competition laps those engines will be recalled.
  • Readallover I always found it hilarious that my parents`friends who paid up for the luxury and exclusivity of a M-B were shocked and disappointed when they went to Europe and found their car was significantly cheaper AND widely used as cabs over there.
  • Laszlo I own a 1969 falcon futura 4 door hardtop, original inline 6 and c4 transmission and it still runs to this day.
  • BklynPete So let's get this straight: Ford hyped up the Bronco for 3 years, yet couldn't launch it to match the crazy initial demand. They released it with numerous QC issues, made hay for its greedy dealers, and burned customers in the process. After all that, they lose money on warranties. The vehicles turn out to be a worse ownership experience than the Jeep Wrangler, which hasn't been a paragon of reliability for 50 years. The same was true of the Aviator, Explorer, several F-150 variants, and other recent product launches. The Maverick is the only thing they got right. Yet this company that's been at it for 120 years. Just Brilliant. Jim Farley's non-PR speak: "You don't get to call me an idiot. I get to call myself an idiot first."Farley truly seems hapless, like the characters his late cousin played. Bill Ford is a nice guy but more than a bit slow on the uptake too. They have not had anything resembling a quality CEO since Alan Mulally turned the keys over to Mark Fields - the mulleted glamor boy who got canned after 3 years when the PowerShi(f)t transaxles exploded. He more recently helped run Hertz into the ground with bad QC and a faulty database that had them arresting customers. Ford is starting to resemble Chrysler in the mid-Seventies Sales Bank era. Well, at least VW has cash and envies Ford's distribution reach and potential profitability.