Tax By Mile Cometh

By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist

Oregon — home of things uber trendy — has become the first state to begin dunning motorists by the mile rather than by the gallon.

The “pilot” program begins July 1 — and will be implemented by the Oregon DOT in partnership with something called Sanef ITS Technologies America and Intelligent Mechatronic Systems. Sounds a lot like Cyberdyne Systems from the Terminator movies, doesn’t it? And the similarities run a lot deeper than that.

To make this work (for Uncle) your car must be fitted with some type of real-time monitoring device that keeps track of your mileage and reports it to Uncle (well, his helpers) who will then either send you a bill or perhaps automatically debit your account.

Kind of like federal tax withholding on wheels.

In Oregon, this means a little widget like the one you may have seen the white-coated Progressive Insurance Lady hawking. It plugs into the Onboard Diagnostics (OBD) port that all cars manufactured since the mid-1990s have. Then ties into your car’s computer, where the data about your mileage and (cue Darth Sideous voice) many other things are stored. Including your speed, rate of acceleration, whether you’re wearing a seatbelt.

You probably can see where that’s headed.

In addition, the device has the ability to act as a locator beacon — relaying data about where you are, where you’re headed. And, of course, where you’ve been.

We’re talking send and receive capability here, too. If they can upload your mileage (and other data) they can also transmit instructions to your car’s computer to shut ‘er down — as punishment for not having paid a traffic ticket, for instance.

Or just because they can.

Uncle and his acolytes are big fans of just because they can.

Keep in mind that this wasn’t put to a vote. It was simply decided. (You Chimp fans out there, take note. You bear a heavy burden of guilt for cheering “decidership” at the national level, which made it increasingly acceptable at the state level.) No one elected the “Flos” within the Oregon DOT; like the EPA (and the NHTSA) they legislate and decree regardless. So much for “consent of the governed,” which can’t be said with a straight face these days by any person not a blithering idiot (or a partei ideologue).

Anyhow, the point is this vehicular eTyranny is going to spread. Oregon is merely a kind of Beta testing ground. Other states will follow. The feds will “incentivize” the recalcitrant. Within five years, it will be a nationwide regime. And then they will argue that owners of cars built before OBD — which do not have the ability to “plug in” (and be monitored/taxed) aren’t “paying their fair share.” These older car owners will then be told their cars must be retrofitted with the necessary electronics or taken off the road.

If you can’t feel this coming in your bones by now, I can’t help you.

And you can thank (ironically enough) the government’s fuel economy fatwas and its pushing of hybrid and electric vehicle technology for all of it. Remember when we were soothed that such things would be good things because they’d save us money? Fewer fill-ups! Go farther, spend less to get there! Well, instead of being chokeholded by ExxonMobil, we’re going to be chokeholded by Uncle. Who is pissed because he’s been shorted, as he sees it.

The increasingly fuel-efficient fleet is using less gas, which means less gas tax collected. This is bad. Less tax extracted being always bad.

So, the argument goes, there must be a way to rebalance the scales (in Uncle’s favor). That way is taxing ’em by the mile.

And so, here we are.

But they had to have foreseen this. The reduced revenue stream from the motor fuels taxes as a result of — wait for it — cars that use less fuel.

Which begs a question, or at least makes one wonder… .

Could it have been the object of the exercise all along? To use a “lateral” to get the populace to accept having their driving electronically kept track of? To end-run the pesky resistance of a certain segment of the population to driving cars without OBD ports, computers and “black box” data recording capability?

Could Uncle and his acolytes be that clever?

I think so, yes.

As has been observed before, when alleged “stupidity” always (always!) seems to trend in one direction, it implies something other than stupidity. The stupid are all over the place.

The smart traject consistently.

This, then, is merely another brick in the wall. Driving — and the ownership of a car — has long been a conditional privilege. No longer a right. This business will simply make it more so. Uncle (and Flo) will be riding shotgun henceforth. But it’s merely the capstone, a fait accompli.

Unless you drive a really old car — pre-1970s — you already drive the kind of car they want you to drive. With the features and equipment they insist you’ll have. You are no longer allowed to have the kind of car you want.

Not for decades.

The driver’s license, meanwhile, has become a “real” ID… your internal passport, without which you become an unperson right now (unable to travel by airplane, car or train) and perhaps much worse down the line.

The net cinches tighter.

I read recently that something on the order of one-third of all young people in the 16-25 demographic have never had a driver’s license and don’t want one, either. They appear to have done the math. Cars — driving — it’s not what it once was. It used to be about freedom — about fun. Now it’s about being controlled and dunned.

No wonder the love affair is headed for divorce court.


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