Autonomous Vehicle Taxes May Arrive Before the Cars Do

By: Ryan Gallagher September 13, 2017
As more efficient self-driving and electric vehicles come on line, legislators are looking at new ways to tax them to support infrastructure.
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Legislators nationwide are betting on autonomous and electric vehicle technology coming sooner than later. Plans are popping up for new state and federal legislation that will create a tax on self-driving cars and electric vehicles

In Massachusetts, legislators have proposed a law that would levy a 2.5 cent-per-mile tax on self-driving cars. Similarly, Tennessee government officials have already agreed to a 1 cent-per-mile tax on self-driving cars, and a 2.6 cent-per-mile tax on self-driving trucks with more than two axles, according to The Detroit News.

The feds may also adopt a tax of this type. Eno Center for Transportation officials, part of a non-profit organization devoted to maintaining traffic control, have recommended a penny-per-mile fee on automobile manufacturers for self-driving cars. In addition to contributing to road maintenance, this tax would allow the government to collect tax money from all drivers—whether through gasoline purchases or miles traveled in an autonomous, electric, or more fuel-efficient vehicle.

“Self-driving cars tend to be very fuel-efficient, and a lot of automakers have talked about how they are going to be all-electric,” said Paul Lewis, vice president of policy and finance for the Eno Center. “That means they are imposing the same type of wear and tear on roadways without paying into the system.”

To go along with this idea, “up-to-date and well-maintained infrastructure is not only important for all road users, but also essential for successful deployment [of] self-driving cars,” said Mary Peters, former U.S. Transportation Secretary.

Critics on the other end of the argument point out that any taxes on electric and self-driving vehicles could stunt their growth. In addition, this legislation would allow the government to tax and track every mile these cars drive. Opponents are apprehensive to grant government officials access to drivers’ movements

While various opinions are being voiced on this matter, state tax plans continue to move forward.

The Tennessee tax has already been approved and is awaiting the first autonomous vehicle’s arrival. The two bills in the Massachusetts state legislature—S.1945, sponsored by Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), and H.1829, sponsored by Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier (D-Pittsfield)—have passed through the Senate and House, respectively, and are awaiting a joint hearing.

Currently the federal tax is merely a suggestion, but if implemented, it could raise up to $300 million per year—and could also help toward funding President Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan.

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