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California Wants GPS Tracking Device in Every Car 1351

Posted by Zonk
from the now-this-is-a-good-use-of-engineering dept.
HTS Member writes "California has a new excuse for more taxes. Claiming losses due to fuel-efficient cars, such as Gasoline/Electric Hybrids, California is cooking-up a new system to punish people who aren't using enough gasoline. They want to tax commuters by the mile. How would this be accomplished? By requiring everyone to install a GPS device in their vehicle, and charge them their "taxes" every time they fuel-up. From the article: 'Drivers will get charged for how many miles they use the roads, and it's as simple as that.. [a] team at Oregon State University equipped a test car with a global positioning device to keep track of its mileage. Eventually, every car would need one.'"
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California Wants GPS Tracking Device in Every Car

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  • by chia_monkey (593501) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @04:50PM (#11681229) Journal
    I see more people carpooling (I pay the taxes, you buy the gas)...or even better, more people riding bikes (for those lucky enough to live in bike-friendly towns).
  • Never happen (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Cyberglich (525256) * on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @04:50PM (#11681234)
    what are the smoking!!! I have a GPS and I can tell you this will NEVER work. 1. GPS is useless in areas with lots f tall buildings like Boston for example (my last trip there my gps was a total joke. Jamming the receiver would be a piece of cake do to the low power nature of it and if they try to get clever and make it so my car won't go with out a signal there going to be a lot of cars stuck in parking structures.
  • by Trigun (685027) <evil@3.14evilempire.ath.cx minus pi> on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @04:50PM (#11681235)
    If the unit doesn't get power, it can't operate. Or you can pull it off your car and leave it in your driveway. Fill up cherry cans instead of your car.
  • A lot less invasive (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tsiangkun (746511) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @04:51PM (#11681244) Homepage
    Why not have the car's mileage checked annually and just get a tax statement then ? I don't have a problem with the concept of people who use the roads paying more for the roads . . . I just don't want to be tracked everywhere I go.
  • by nizo (81281) * on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @04:52PM (#11681264) Homepage Journal
    Should there be a per-book checkout tax to help fund the libraries? How about taxing people more if their kid's teacher spends more time helping them than the other kids (10 cents per question answered)? I like the idea of higher taxes for people who use the road more since they are contributing more wear and tear to the roads, however applying this kind of mentality in every case doesn't sound like a good idea.

    By the way, rather than a GPS unit on every car, why not just institute a smart toll system instead? Wouldn't this be cheaper, not to mention not being quite as scary from a privacy standpoint?

  • Re:Patriot Act (Score:4, Interesting)

    by John Harrison (223649) <<johnharrison> <at> <gmail.com>> on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @04:55PM (#11681330) Homepage Journal
    Wouldn't it just be easier to just raise the gas tax? Another alternative that would be less invasive would be to make people pay a different tax rate based on the mileage their car gets. Another way would be to make it part of the inspection process. When you take your car in for inspection they take down the mileage. It seems like there are lots of solutions to this that don't involve putting a GPS in every car.
  • by Piquan (49943) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:01PM (#11681439)

    Last time I drove over the state lines was when I moved to California. But at that time, they had roadblocks set up to ask everybody if they were carrying any fruits or veggies.

    So possibly those same roadblocks could sign off a milage log when you enter or leave the state. Purely voluntary, but it's an easy way for you to prove that you were driving X miles outside of the state.

  • by nizo (81281) * on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:02PM (#11681460) Homepage Journal
    You just made me think of something. What if I drive my truck on my own private dirt roads 99% of the time? Should I get taxed for all those miles not on a public road? Or are there not enough private roads in California for this to be a problem? :-)
  • No "there" there (Score:2, Interesting)

    by alex_guy_CA (748887) <[alex] [at] [schoenfeldt.com]> on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:06PM (#11681547) Homepage
    Well, as scary as this is in theory, there is no substance to the article at all. No bill number, no names of politicians or agencies that are actually considering everything. I'm not going to loose any sleep over this until it sounds a lot less like vaporware.
  • by temojen (678985) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:15PM (#11681704) Journal
    That's close to what I was going to say (but simpler). You beat me to it; That'll teach me to wander off and actually do work.

    Unfortunately, taxing by mile does not take into acount that some vehicles inherently put more wear on the road than others. It'd be quite unfair to assign the same road maintenance cost/mile to a user of a Honda Nighthawk [honda.com] or Geo Metro [msn.com] as a Ford Super Duty [fordvehicles.com].

    In a hybridless all fossil-fuel powered economy, fuel consumption is an acceptable proxy for road wear. Unfortunately, this goes out the window when hybrid and non-fossil fuel powered vehicles are introduced. One way to get around this might be to scale the mileage tax by the mass of the vehicle. Unfortunately this doesn't distinguish between those who use their Ford Super Duty to commute and those who use it to haul rocks around. Both pay the same amount for "road wear" despite the fact that the rock hauler is doing a lot more wear than the commuter.

    Then again, it may serve as a dis-encentive to using a vehicle like the Super Duty to commute, which would be a good thing.

    It also doesn't distinguish between mileage used in the taxable jurisdiction, and that used in other jurisdictions.... long-haul truckers are unfairly punished.

  • by maddskillz (207500) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:15PM (#11681723)
    Well, what do you expect when the state Govenor owns a Hummer?
  • Re:Patriot Act (Score:5, Interesting)

    by I_Love_Pocky! (751171) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:20PM (#11681812)
    I am hardly a tin foil hat wearing type

    Speaking of tin foil, what's to prevent someone from wrapping their GPS receiver in a material that would prevent it from communicating with a GPS Satellite? Aside from the privacy issues raised by this technology, I think it would be highly ineffective.

    Besides, I disagree with this on general principle. I'm fine with the idea that everyone should pay for the roads, and those who use them more should pay more, but that is because every time you drive, you damage the road somewhat. The problem is that most of these fuel efficient cars are fairly light, and don't cause as much damage as large vehicles.

    The only way this would be fair is if the weight of the vehicle was some how factored into the cost of the miles driven (the lighter the car, the lower the cost per mile).
  • by anakin876 (612770) <(anakin876) (at) (hotmail.com)> on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:20PM (#11681814)
    The main problem is that it has been turned into a human rights kind of issue. In the case of illegal immigration no one has the guts to stand up and say "get them out and keep them out" because it gets turned into a racism issue. Getting re-elected after alienating a bunch of your supporters (who now thinky ou hate mexicans) is pretty tough. Meanwhile the Federal Government tries to convince California it has to foot the bill for the immigrants when the it is a Federal department who has the job of keeping the illegal immigrants out. Sort of "oops, we screwed up. You better take care of this" response.
  • by ragingmime (636249) <ragingmime.yahoo@com> on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:21PM (#11681840) Homepage
    With the FastLane toll-paying transimtters here in Massachussets, the government tracks how long it takes you to get from one toll booth to another. From there, you can calculate the average speed of the car between the two booths. I this isn't theoretical; the government actually does it. I know someone who got a speeding ticket in the mail but was never pulled over; it turned out that his Fast Lane reciever had signalled that he was speeding.

    I can deal with that because FastLane is an optional convenience. If California's transmitters become mandatory and they do track people's speeds (which seems likely), I see that as a serious invasion of privacy. Could they use these GPS devices to track criminals with a warrant? Might these transmitters fall under portions of the USA Patriot act that allow wiretapping and such without a warrant? (That's not a rhetorical question; INAL and I seriously don't know). I understand that California needs tax money to keep the roads in good condition, and it makes sense that the people who drive on them should have to pay for them. But there are some major problems with the way this is being done. If these transmitters become mandatory and nobody makes sure that the law protects our privacy, then we could have an invasion of privacy like none other on our hands.
  • by i41Overlord (829913) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:22PM (#11681853)
    Please explain to me how this "punishes" you for owning a fuel-efficient vehicle? Unless of course, you define "punish" as "making people pay the same amount for traveling the same stretch of road".

    Shouldn't people who drive vehicles that wear the road more pay more to use those roads? A light compact car isn't going to wear the road as much as a 7,000 lb Humvee, or a 6,000 lb suburban.
  • Re:Patriot Act (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ryosen (234440) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:22PM (#11681858)
    The device is passive but is self-aware as to its location. They could easily configure it so that each device contains an RFID tag that communicates statistics to the pump (ala Exxon/Mobil's SpeedPass). The travel data could also be stored in the car's black box (all have them since 1996).

    To echo some previous posts, I can also definately see this as a means for traffic enforcement. It's a trivial thing for a GPS unit to track your speed.

    What I find asinine is the duality in California's attitude towards energy conservation. They want everyone to conserve (turn down your A/C, use less water, drive fuel-efficient cars) but penalize you when you do. Here's an idea to raise some cash - cut the graft rampant in the administration.

    This unfairly favors out-of-state drivers, too, who will not be subjected to the tax, as they wouldn't have the GPS monitor in their car. What's the state going to do - hand them out at the border?

    The danger of this, of course, is that this will catch on in other states. That would take care of the pesky out-of-state driver and would be a boon for the state governments as they create even more wasteful departments and committees while they try to figure out who owes what for driving where.

    The end result of this will be the general perception that, gallon for gallon, fuel-efficient cars are taxed more than standard cars.

    Introducing the 2006 Chrysler Harrison-Bergeron.....
  • Re:Patriot Act (Score:3, Interesting)

    by harrkev (623093) <kfmsd@harrelsonf ... minus physicist> on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:23PM (#11681870) Homepage
    I'm confused as to how you track people with a GPS device. GPS is _passive_. All GPS satellites do is emit a signal. They can't track anyone - the Pentagon has zero idea of how many people are using GPS at any particular time, let alone who they are.
    Simple. The GPS receiver can also be programmed with the coordinates of the state borders. As you drive, increase the milage count as long as you are within the state. The processor which does the counting would also have some sort of radio transmitter/receiver. When you stop for gas, your GPS controller talks to the gas pump. After they compare basketball scores and gossip, the pump is told the total in-Kalifornia miles, and the pump adds the tax.

    What I wonder is if the actual path is recorded, or just the milage. Would the path be sent to the pump, or just the milage. Also, how suceptible would this be to hacking (my guess is VERY).

    Waaaait a second here. This is GOOD NEWS. Geeks drive for free!!! Somebody somewhere will figure out how to defeat this thing.
  • Re:Never happen (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Jivecat (836356) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:25PM (#11681917) Homepage
    Spotty reception can result in worse answers than "no data." During a train ride on the south side of Chicago my GPS receiver extrapolated from two intermittent satellite signals and said that we were travelling in a perfectly straight line at an altitude of 3 miles above northern Ontario, at a speed of 1,300 MPH.
  • Missing the point (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Lord Kano (13027) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:33PM (#11682037) Homepage Journal
    I've seen a few people suggest that they use the odometer for such taxes. If in fact tax refenue was the true objective, they would. When you get renew your yearly registration they could tell you how much you owe.

    The real point is to get people used to the idea that it's OK for the government to track your every movement. As soon as people accept something like this, how long do you think it will be before they mandate chips under our skin?

    It's not about taxes, it's about acclimation.

    LK
  • Yeah, ok (Score:2, Interesting)

    by WoodSmoke (631754) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:33PM (#11682044)
    Let me get this straight... California, a state that cannot and/or will not stop and/or track the illegal immegrants who are in violation of federal laws, proposes to track every single vehicle in the state? Um...ok
  • by McSpew (316871) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:48PM (#11682265)

    NPR [npr.org] had a story about this [npr.org] last month. First off, it's Oregon that's driving this project, not California, although California's interested in Oregon's results. Second, Oregon is currently testing a system that will work much like Mobil's SpeedPass system. Essentially, you'll have a GPS device in your car that'll keep track of where you drive. It can log your miles into zones. When you buy gas, it uploads the mileage info to the pump which then automagically adds the appropriate tax to your gas purchase.

    The system as it is currently envisioned won't necessarily track exactly where you've been--just whether it was in-state or out-of-state. However, it promises to be able to do far more than simply track in-state or out-of-state mileage. It can also track whether any of your mileage was logged in a highly-congested area (much like London's congestion tax for driving in certain congested parts of the city), or during high congestion times (a rush-hour tax to encourage off-hours commuting), and tax you accordingly.

    It remains to be seen whether the added cost of putting the devices in cars and equipping gas pumps with the readers is worth it, though.

  • by cs (15509) <cs@zip.com.au> on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @05:54PM (#11682346) Homepage
    Leaving aside the expense and complexity of installing and administering these trackers and preventing abuses like extending their use to infer speeding or to report on where people go, this is silly.

    The Cal govt needs a certain amount of tax income. If fuel efficient cars are lowering the tax they feel should be proportional to road use then they should raise the fuel tax (it's like, 50% in Oz). This has three big benefits:

    1. it restores their revenues
    2. it's very very simple
    3. it's further discouragement of fuel inefficient vehicles, which I had thought a high goal in Cal, home of the tightest of emissions laws
  • by danheskett (178529) <danheskettNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @06:01PM (#11682462)
    The problem is, like tobacco taxes, is that it will cause people to consume less, and then, eventually, lead to lower taxes.

    The State of Maine had a problem like this. The State needed more revenue, so they hiked the tobacco tax drastically. By the next year, smoking/tobacco sales had dropped to a level so that revenue would be flat or almost flat, instead of higher. They expected that since people were addicted, they'd keep buying. So they raised the taxes again, which will very likely reduce smoking again.

    The bottom line? The same-ish number of people smoke and cause themselves harm, but smoke somewhat less than before, maybe about 20% fewer cigarettes.

    Now the State is in a death spiral of taxes. They raise them, people cutback. Eventually the income will stop staying flat, and will actually fall.

    And then what? They'll want to *cut* taxes to encourage smoking to *raise* revenues, but it'll be all politically incorrect to do so, and the State will have to solve its funding problem on something other than peoples addiction.

    The same thing will happen with gas. People will drive less, buy less gas, car pool more, buy black market gas more, and generally, find ways around the tax. That's it, the bottom line. Then CA will have to address the real issue. How to raise revenue in an even fair way.
  • by sjlutz (540312) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @06:08PM (#11682561)
    Bigger, faster cars do more damage to the roads and kill more people each year, so it makes sense that their drivers should have to pay more in gas taxes.

    I'm going to bet you that my fast car did not kill any more people than your car did last year.
    Just kidding, I understood your point. But here's a point for you: my car gets about 5 more miles per gallon when I'm going 80 miles an hour versus the standard 55. And how is going faster causing more wear on the road?
  • Re:Patriot Act (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PMuse (320639) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @06:26PM (#11682792)
    Or, is it
    USA PATRIOT Act: Usurping Some Ancient Prerogatives And Terminating Rights to Inaugurate Oppression and Tyranny?

  • This idea came from Oregon, and is entirely wacky. Yes, people will need tinfoil, but not for their hats, for their GPS antennas. A tiny bit of tinfoil will render the GPS completely inoperative.

    Those who want corruption attack the weak states first. Oregon state government has become, in my opinion, very corrupt, so that's where the corrupters try their stupid ideas.

    Apparently, this has very little to do with "a team at Oregon State University". That's just to give the idea a little credibility. If I remember correctly, the people behind it want to sell the electronics.

    Suppose there is a system like this and it records that a teenager drove 10,000 miles in the mountains of Peru last month? What could the government do about that? There would be no taxes in California or Oregon for driving in Peru, would there?

    A system like this would make war drivers very, very happy. They could make a very simple electronic device that would send GPS signals to every car as they drove looking for wireless connections. Can you imagine the court cases:

    Accused: But judge, the records show that I was calmly driving north on I-5, and then one hour later I was driving more than 100 miles per hour through the streets of Moscow.

    Judge: Will you certify for the court that you are not an alien with extraterrestrial means of transport?

    Accused: Yes.

    Judge: Case dismissed.

    Anyhow, this story is a dupe of a dupe, by a Slashdot editor, Michael, who was duped:

    Oregon Considers GPS-based Road Taxes [slashdot.org]

    More on Oregon and GPS-tracked Gas Taxes [slashdot.org]

    If you would like to read more about my part-time, unfinished investigation of state government corruption, see The idea cannot work. So why do they propose it? [slashdot.org]

    This story should scare you, even if you don't live in the United States. Two men, whose family and business associates and friends have extensive investments in global oil businesses, are president and vice-president of the entire U.S. government. The president is a not-too-smart partier and heavy drinker who has been arrested three times. The vice-president also has been a heavy drinker and has been arrested twice for drunken driving.

    Knowing all this, think how corrupt the lower governments must be.

    Some of the Bush and Cheney arrest records. [slashdot.org]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @07:16PM (#11683363)
    Fast does not always mean inefficient. For example:

    * The 400hp 185mph Chevrolet Corvette is rated for 26mpg on the highway.
    * The 225hp 125mph BMW 3-series is rated for 25mpg on the highway.

    Admittedly this example is conveniently chosen - but it does illustrate my point: cars that are designed to be fast can also be relatively efficient. Their aerodynamics are cleaner and in daily driving they lope around town. High gear, low RPM, using very little of their capacity.

    But okay.. so you might blow your average fuel consumption figures when you hit the track on the weekends, but at least you'd have the option if you were so inclined.
  • by Minstrel Boy (787690) <kevin_stevens@hotmail.com> on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @07:20PM (#11683421)
    In 2000, I drove my 1999 Corvette from the Bay Area to Kansas and back. Total round trip average at a preferred speed of 80mph was 34.2mpg. 80mph let me get into sixth gear without lugging the engine.

    Now I have a Miata, and I don't ever see anything approaching that mileage - overall I average 18-20mpg, since most of the time my foot is flat to the floor trying to encourage the hamsters.

    Anyway, just interesting data points. I don't agree with the OP that bigger/faster = $$, but I don't think there was a problem with the flat gas tax either, I think it apportioned the tax at least as evenly as this new proposal would. If that isn't enough money, they'll crank it up, I'm sure. My best guess is that if they introduce this hideously intrusive new proposal, we'll find that it ends up being an ADDITIONAL tax above and beyond the flat gas tax. Hooray.

    KeS
  • by phats garage (760661) on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @08:16PM (#11684038) Homepage Journal
    ok, stupid decision maker, president of the united states, somehow I don't like them being so closely linked.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 15, 2005 @10:02PM (#11684997)
    Well, in soCal, you can see what really tears up the roads. At least around San Diego and LA, all the lanes of a highway get significant usage by cars, but only the right-side lanes get used by trucks, yet it's the lanes that have the heaviest truck traffic in them that have the deepest wheel ruts and get them the fastest after they've resurfaced the highway.

    Having worked at a transportation research center, car usage is essentially negligible to highway wear, except where it's legal to drive with studded snow tires. Even at its max, passenger vehicle loads are about 1500 lb/wheel. A loaded semitruck, the proverbial "18 wheeler", is, on the average, lessee... 80,000 lbs/18 = 4400 lb/wheel.

    As I recall, it's the compress/rebound effects that really mess the road surfaces up quickly, and it's not a linear effect...

    Yes, commercial trucking does pay far more in road taxes and penalty taxes (speeding ticket driving a semi in Oregon is ~$900...), but they probably do not pay for their share of road damage, and are far more able to lobby that road taxes should be a "per capita" tax, rather than all the taxes that weigh down the trucking industry.

    Since governments won't ever decide to tax something until it measurably begins to have an effect, we never really know who is right.

    For a counter-example, some of the tollways (I-355) in Illinois, which do not get a lot of semitruck traffic, are of much nicer road quality (but arguably newer) than the "free" expressways around Chicago, especially I-94 near downtown Chicago.

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