Today The Hill is reporting that the Obama administration is floating a plan to tax all cars by-the-mile. The plan is part of the Obama administration’s “Transportation Opportunities Act.” Senator Kent Conrad and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) have also supported in recent months a by-the-mile tax for all cars to increase federal highway revenues. Both Conrad and the CBO propose the installation of an electronic device that would monitor and track every mile a vehicle would travel.
If all of this sounds a little Orwellian, well you are not the only one with that thought. If a bill such as this passes we can expect to transition into a brave new automotive world, one in which big brother will monitor not just our mileage but also our driving patterns and more than likely when and where we will go via satellite tracking. This is another example of how quickly our liberties and freedoms are eroding. Traditionally owning an automobile was an extension of the freedom the U.S. Constitution afforded us. Since after World War I, when many Americans purchased automobiles, we have had the ability to come and go whenever and wherever we pleased. We were no longer inhibited by where we wanted to live, work, or even vacation. As long as there was a road going to a particular destination – an automobile could take us there and it was nobody’s business where we went and how we got there. Now that’s all changing. In many countries around the world their citizens are stuck taking public transportation which the average person has no control over. Of course there are places in the U.S. such as New York City where public transportation trumps driving a car since the dense population makes getting around in a car very difficult. However in the U.S. we have a large expanse of land which is much easier to cover in an automobile and in many of these places public transportation is not available. The average U.S. driver racks up 13,476 miles per year (according to the U.S. Department of Transportation). Most people in America have a car, so there’s no doubt the automobile is the preferred mode of transportation in America.
Unlike our ancestors before the advent of the automobile, who were generally stuck in one place and could not travel great distances, only the rich and well-to-do had mobility in pre-automotive times. Today we have great mobility due to the automobile. For instance you live on the East Coast of the U.S. and you decide that you want to drive to Los Angeles – you can just hop into your car and go. If on a whim you decide to make stops on the way of this nearly three thousand mile trip to see certain sights – you can. However if you take an airplane, train, or bus as your mode of transportation you are at the mercy of the fixed schedules or the unexpected delays of these modes of transportation. America is about choices, a tax such as this will force most Americans to change their driving habits even if they don’t want to.
Starting in the 1960s the U.S. Government began regulating our cars – first it was small items and it seemed sensible. Beginning in the 1970s, pollution control devices were added to our cars and stricter safety standards were enacted pertaining to bumpers and crash standards. Next the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandated Corporate Average Fuel Economy (C.A.F.E.) standards which removed the big family sedans and station wagons from our roads that most American families could easily afford and had loved. By the 1980s it was mandatory computers which began to manage/control engine and transmission functions and then there was the mandated high mounted brake light. By the 1990s, air bags were mandated which injured and killed some children (that’s why most people insist on having their children sit in the back seat in airbag equipped vehicles) and shorter statured people who had their seating position up too close to the first generation airbags which used gun powder to deploy the airbags at an extremely high velocity. A University of Georgia study claims airbags have caused increased automobile accident deaths. The onboard automotive computers in recent years have gotten more sophisticated and become the equivalent of an airplane black box – where they can store pertinent information related to the driving patterns of a given car which includes enough data to even be used by the police for accident reconstruction.
Now we’ve entered into the second decade of the 21st century, and we read the articles and hear the news blurbs on TV about cars that will soon drive themselves or lawmakers pushing for the installation in every new car of mandatory (ignition system connected) alcohol breathalyzer devices. Installing devices in all cars to monitor the mileage/driving patterns for tax purposes would be the final nail in the coffin. Such a device may first be used just to figure out your mileage, but it can easily be used to monitor every aspect related to your driving. For instance it would not be beyond the realm of possibility that cameras (which would monitor your activities inside your car) could someday be integrated into these devices – many police cars now have cameras and traffic cameras are now on many of our roadways and in many traffic intersections in just about every major metropolitan area (you can see the multitude of YouTube videos which show captured video feeds from these cameras). Add to this mileage tracking device a microphone and there’s a possibilitiy you can give anyone monitoring the system or hacking it, the ability to listen in on your private conversations in your car. In-other-words putting a mileage monitoring device into our cars will be like opening up Pandora’s Box.
Even if the mileage monitoring device is not misused, a by-the-mile tax is a bad idea because most people who drive on America’s roads are already taxed per mile with the current federal gasoline tax (18.4 cents per gallon – 24.4 cents per gallon for diesel) which is supposed to pay for transportation related projects. With the high price of gasoline which is now in many areas of the country over $4 per gallon, a new by-the-mile tax would be an even greater burden on most families. In fact the people who would be hurt most by this tax will be the poor – some of which may be forced out of their cars because of this tax. The middle class would also take a big hit in the wallet with this type of tax. With the current U.S. economy in free-fall the last thing the American people need is another tax. This is not even mentioning the added cost each driver would have to pay to install and maintain a mileage monitoring device in older cars.
No matter which way you slice it, a by-the-mile tax would be a very bad idea. Hopefully smarter heads will prevail and this proposed bill will never make it to the House or Senate floor. If it should pass, driving a car as we know it will never be the same – it will certainly take a turn for the worse.
Written contents in this article – © 2011 Pete Dunton – All Rights Reserved