A mileage tax to help cover the expenses created by a dwindling highway fund are once again being discussed by the federal government. Vocal opponents to such a plan maintain that rural and suburban residents will be unduly targeted by such a tax and that the little black boxes tracking driving habits are an invasion of privacy.
Earlier this week the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued a report that included a mileage tax option to generate more revenue for the federal highway program. According to the report, “spending obligations” for the trust fund will be significantly higher than currently available revenue in 2015. The CBO report also noted that the grim reality of fiscal constraints will ultimately force Congress to reduce highway spending, find new sources of revenue – or do both.
The CBO has raised the idea of a mileage tax several times to Congress in recent years. A 2011 report included multiple pages that analyzed how a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) plan would function. The federal agency claims that a mileage tax or a VMT system would be a feasible alternative to fuel taxes and such plans have reduced road traffic in other countries. The GBO said people simply chose to drive less to avoid higher taxes.
Rural residents who dive 40 miles to get to work or reach a hospital would not be able to eliminate such essential drive time. If small farmers are forced to pay more to operate their business and large companies experience higher taxes to transport goods, the costs of food and other items will likely soon increase for consumers.
Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication devices are currently being debated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A V2V system allows cars to “talk to each other” and are being touted as accident prevention devices by supporters. Those opposed to the techno gadgets most often consider them an example of government overreach, data mining, and a citizen tracking initiative – sans warrant, of course.
The Government Accountability Office study claims that a VMT tax and V2V devices could offer warnings to drivers that could potentially prevent 76 percent of multiple vehicle accidents. According to highway collision statistics, there are approximately 5.3 million car accidents and 32,000 drivers and passengers killed in wrecks in a common year.
GAO Physical Infrastructure Director David Wise went on to add that the success of smart cars and the GPS tracking technology is dependent upon vehicles possessing the same system so they can talk to each other while on the road. Wise also acknowledged the controversial privacy concerns the V2V systems propose. “Privacy is the real challenge,” he told ABC News. “Who has access and how do you secure the data?”
Wise also noted the possibility of a cyber hacker gaining access to the system and literally wreaking havoc on highways across the nation. Such a possibility also brings to light potential national security and terrorism concerns. During such a cyber warfare scenario, a domestic or foreign terrorist could hack into the V2V system of a tractor-trailer carrying explosive or toxic materials and essentially create portable bombs.
The vehicle tracking systems also reportedly have the capability to record alleged traffic violations and mail tickets to drivers. If a V2V system thinks that a driver engaged in a rolling stop or drove one mile over the speed limit, a ticket could soon appear in the vehicle owner’s mail box.
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