But designing a government system smart enough to distinguish some of those nuances inevitably requires a collection of personal data. States could just have someone write down your mileage every year along with an emissions inspection, but that would be unfair to rural drivers. From there the options range from checkpoints to putting automated mileage tracking devices on every vehicle. It isn't just a steamrolling of privacy rights, but expensive and unworkable. And the potential for shenanigans of all kinds — from cheating by savvy drivers to unauthorized uses of data by government agencies — looms large.
The better answer comes from the data. The biggest road costs come from two main causes; heavy trucks and congestion. Heavy trucks are only 4% of the nation's vehicle fleet — but they drive 10% of the total miles annually, and trigger about 25% of all highway costs, including nearly all costs for pavement damage. Unlike private automobiles, heavy trucks already face a welter of rules regarding emissions and miles driven. Putting a by-the-mile tax on them would pose far smaller technical and legal problems, while raising the taxes they pay closer to their costs.
Many parts of the country already have a government-supplied miles-counting device of sorts in their vehicles; on the East Coast it's called E-ZPass. States have been raising tolls on highways in urban areas, which sucks, but moves toward matching costs to users. New York City wants to impose a congestion fee, an extra charge for city driving during rush hours; it hasn't succeeded yet, but it's likely a matter of time, and other cities may follow suit.
All of which would be better than trying to invent an ever-more complex technology put on every car in America that would inevitably be ripe for abuse. Driving may not be in the Constitution, but the country was founded on the belief we have a right to move without the government looking over our shoulder.
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