By on August 21, 2017

money (401(k) 2012/Flickr)

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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25 Comments on “Money-hungry States Lining Up to Tax Self-driving Cars (Just Like EVs)...”

  • avatar

    The most efficient tax would be one based on miles driven–period. Eliminate gasoline taxes and tax ALL vehicles based on weight and distance driven. Since all vehicles have to undergo some form of annual or bi-annual inspection, it would be easy to collect the mileage for taxation purposes.

    • 0 avatar

      I wonder how many states have annual or bi-annual inspections? I’ve lived in 3 states and never had one, but I hear they do them in some states.

      • 0 avatar

        Texas for one but I read they wanted to get rid of the annual safety inspection.

      • 0 avatar

        Many states in the Northeast have emissions testing done annually but not necessarily safety inspections.

        For example… You have have a missing bumper but still pass the inspection since it’s for emissions not safety. Seen some vehicles like that. Even asked some people doing the inspections about that which they’ve confirmed.

      • 0 avatar

        Illinois does not have across the board vehicle inspections, only emissions checks in regions with air quality issues. However, vehicle registrations must be renewed annually. It should be possible to require mileage tax be collected at that point. It would have to be based on self-reporting, but trying to grossly under report mileage would eventually be found out when transferring the title in the event of sale or demolition.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Totally agree.

      It should be done this way:

      Road taxes = GVWR x Annual miles driven x State coefficient.

      This way, every vehicle pays its fair share, and pump prices can go way down.

      In an era of rising CAFE standards, hybrids, and EVs, gas pump taxes are an endless chase in futility.

      Even my state – Pennsylvania – with the highest gas tax in the country, doesn’t receive enough from the pump tax.

      • 0 avatar

        So I live in Canada… like to drive to Florida. How am going to pay for that? Forms for each state? Check odometer going in and coming out?

        If I lived in ‘Murica, say Rhode Island, would I get a credit on my Rhode Island bill for time I spent driving in Massachusetts?

        Doesn’t seem that simple to me.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, not all vehicles have an annual or bi-annual inspection.

      If the link below is correct, there are currently 10 states with neither a safety or emissions inspection at all, and another 14 that do a VIN inspection upon registering combined with some sort of emissions test maybe, depending on the age and location of the vehicle.

      While I’m assuming that all states capture an odometer reading at the first registration in the state, these 24 state processes might not need the mileage logged after that. It probably varies greatly from state to state. The remaining 26 do have inspections, either annually, bi-annually, or…..Utah, which is weird with certain counties have different intervals for emissions and inspections than the rest of the state.

      Now, in theory, when you renew auto insurance, you have to give the odo reading to them. But that’s not information that those companies are obligated to report, as far as I know.

      In short, its a patchwork of a lot of varying systems, with no universal inspection or emissions standards or way to accurately capture yearly miles driven

    • 0 avatar

      Period? Anyone that states “period” after a suggestion is someone that shouldn’t be listened to.

      I live in MN, but have many co-workers that live just across the border in WI. They live in WI, but do 80% of their driving in MN. Which State gets the money?

      As others have stated, most states don’t do regular inspections.

      Not that your idea doesn’t have merit, it’s just not practical right now.

  • avatar

    This truly is a legitimate challenge with no easy answer.

    I’ve long wondered if the best plan was to get rid of the gas tax and do a per-mile tax… But then what about vehicles used off-road? Or people who roll back odometers? I know its illegal but its possible on some makes, and people may be more tempted to if it saves them big bucks… and what about costs validating odometers?

    I don’t know if the DMV could handle all the people since most people renew via mail, and then will there be some states that you can skirt the registration fees by registering out of state? that already happens in california, and I know some people register under a corporation in Montana to avoid taxationm and around here people register in Florida because my understanding is (I have not validated it) they don’t make you verify addresses.

    But I guess the way the world always works is as soon as you solve old problems, you now get a new host of problems to deal with!

  • avatar

    In addition to not raising the national gas tax, congress takes money from the highway trust fund to subsidize subways, light rail and other means of public transportation.

  • avatar

    The west coast is only densely populated in five areas that are hundreds of miles part. Even the Los Angeles area is densely populated only in the upper income areas. I voted twice for tax increases in L.a. for mass transit. why can’t other areas do it?
    Why should we let the highway trust fund be used for specific areas while the rest of the country crumbles?

  • avatar

    Road taxes are an idea that may work. Long haul truckers have had them for years. Although I don’t like giving up the gas tax as that will only encourage using more gas guzzling vehicles. The gas tax should be deductible from the road tax.
    As people who have to commute would be unfairly taxed. My example is always Los Angeles as that is the area I know. 4800 sq. miles with 18 million people. There is no central employment district and people have to live in the area they can afford. I traveled 76 miles each way from Moreno Valley to Century City. That is no way unusual in the area. My neighbors went to Anaheim, Torrance and other cities. No way to connect all those dots by mass transit.

    As you know, L.A. is model for so many cities that were built around the car. Those people need to commute and so a road tax would be unfair.

  • avatar

    Here’s a radical idea: don’t tax based on gas consumption or miles driven.

    The NYC resident who never drives benefits from the roadways elsewhere in the US to help supply his food, transport the goods he purchases, etc. His benefit has no relation to the amount of distance he drives.

    Someone living in a rural area, with a low income who doesn’t consume much in the way of goods and services shouldn’t be forced to shoulder the burden of keeping up the infrastructure that benefits the entire country.

    Want to drive an even bigger wedge between folks in rural areas and the “coastal elites”? Start taxing them based on the miles they drive.

  • avatar

    I used to be for increasing the gas tax, both federal and state. Until I found out that the federal government and most states never spend all of the gas tax money on roads – some of it ends up back into the general funds. So an increase in gas taxes doesn’t mean that any more money will be spent on road repairs and improvements.

    This sort of stuff goes on all the time. In many states the money from the lottery games is “earmarked” for education. But what really happens is that the state just gives less money to education from out of the general fund so the education funding ends up about the same.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    “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.

    • 0 avatar

      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.

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