The tax man rides shotgun Black boxes would brake the freedom of the road
In 1973, Richard Foster’s short story “A Nice Morning Drive” imagined a future in which increasingly stringent vehicle regulations had rendered all conventional automobiles illegal in favor of government-approved monstrosities. The story was meant as a warning against the dangers of creeping, incremental regulations that seem harmless at first, but are cumulatively tyrannical.
Forty years later, our own Foster-esque scenario is playing out with the prospect of a little black box on your car’s dashboard that would transmit your vehicle-use data to a government tax collector. This is what some in Washington and various state legislatures are proposing as a way to bolster revenues for the struggling Highway Trust Fund, now running a structural deficit of around $15 billion.
By taxing drivers based on how far they drive, the amount each individual pays to maintain the roads would directly correspond with how much they use them. It’s not so much a tax as a “user fee” that is both economically efficient and lacks the redistributive component of most taxes. These features make it an improvement over the gas tax, which, in addition to being politically unpopular, taxes in a way that imperfectly corresponds with how much people actually drive.