New Black Boxes Could Usher in Road-Usage Tax

By Kelsey Mays  on October 28, 2013

Cast into the limelight during Toyota's unintended-acceleration crisis, automotive black boxes — also called event data recorders — can help investigators piece together what happened before and during a car crash. Just about every new car has one.

A new initiative could allow the government to track how far you drive, however. And it uses a different sort of black box.

The L.A. Times reports that regulators are considering a second black box that explicitly tracks vehicle mileage — and perhaps where you drive — to fund road maintenance. Fuel taxes, which have remained the same for 20 years, fund the bulk of America's 57-year-old Highway Trust Fund to support highway maintenance and public transit. Problem is, the fund is slowly drying up as cars become more fuel efficient.

Enter what experts call mileage-based user fees, the L.A. Times reports. You pay for the mileage you drive, effectively turning every road into a toll road. Some states, like Oregon and Nevada, have already tested such a program. Oregon's 5,000 pilot-program drivers will pay mileage fees instead of fuel taxes. Privacy advocates warn of the potential for Big Brother oversight, but many drivers have already consented to tracking devices — some of which monitor a lot more than mileage — to lower car-insurance rates.

"The gas tax is just not sustainable," University of Minnesota transit expert Lee Munnich told the L.A. Times. "This works out as the most logical alternative over the long term."

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Senior Consumer Affairs Editor Kelsey Mays likes quality, reliability, safety and practicality. But he also likes a fair price.  Email Kelsey