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10Jul/09

GPS-Tracking Car Tax is Gaining Traction

The first set of mass-production plug-in electric vehicles are slated to arrive this year. Among other incentives, they won't pay a dime in fuel tax. Looking to head-off that shortfall, several states, including California, Oregon, and Missouri have investigated charging by the mile, instead of by the gallon.

Why not simply base mileage on a vehicle's odometer? Beside the obvious tampering concerns, a state has no right to collect for out-of-state mileage. In the past, it had always been assumed that anyone traveling interstate would eventually need to fill-up with taxable liquid fuel at a regulated pump, thus contributing to each state's highway improvement budget.

Not so, in this modern era. Electric vehicles, like GM's Volt, can be charged from any conventional outlet, or faster via a dedicated higher-voltage charger. Though, theoretically, taxes will be paid on the energy consumed, those taxes don't directly contribute to things like highway improvement.

Now comes the increasingly ever-depreciating GPS with the ability, not only, to collect state and interstate road-usage data with a fair degree of accuracy and tamper-resistance, but also the ability to transmit that data wirelessly on-schedule, on-demand, or even in real-time.

It's that last feature that has many up in arms. How else could this data be used? It could, for instance, report traffic violations to municipalities without involving a law enforcement officer, even as they occur. It could also be used to prove that someone was speeding, or is a habitual speeder, after the fact. Perhaps as evidence in a traffic accident. Or for the purposes of increasing one's insurance premium. It could be used to automatically alert authorities when a suspect returns to their jurisdiction, or to the "scene of the crime". For that matter, it could be used after an incident to locate all individuals who were in the area, and even retrace their path. Spouses could subpoena the data as evidence of infidelity. Ex-spouses could use it to collect child or spousal support.

Some have suggested that such a system would come with built-in privacy mechanisms. For instance, it might only record the mileage in each state, and not specific location data. The biggest problem with that is, now you have no way to audit the accuracy of the figures, or the system as a whole. It presents the possibility of systemic inaccuracies or even gross abuse. In other words, much like electronic voting, how do citizens patrol their government?

Read more @ Kansas City Star

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