How Improved Data Privacy Can Impact The Future Of The Gas Tax

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The way we pay for our roads is changing. And it’s controversial.

While most Americans pay for our roads at the gas pump, electric vehicle owners no longer have this ability. As electric vehicles become increasingly popular on roadways across the country, it raises the question—how will we pay for our roads in the future?

Moving away from the gas tax isn’t as easy as some may think. There have been dozens of ideas proposed, but the most likely solution is a road usage charge law. This means drivers will pay for roads based on how often they drive. Many states, including California, Washington, Utah and others, “have begun to actively study, explore and pilot road user charge (RUC) systems as the most likely long-term replacement” to the gas tax.

This solution makes sense. Caltrans explains that “All vehicles, regardless of their fuel source, cause wear and tear to our roadways,” therefore, all vehicle owners should help pay for the roads their vehicles drive on. With the proposed road usage charge, all vehicles will contribute to funding the maintenance of our roads, regardless of whether they run on gas or electricity.

Here’s where it gets complicated. These laws are being passed state by state, meaning that the charge will be different in each state. Regulating this will be extremely difficult without technological help.

Some states are considering implementing GPS trackers in vehicles to regulate how often and where people are driving. This solution would be simple, passive and automatic. However, many vehicle owners may be apprehensive about allowing the government to track their every move, and with good reason.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in recent years, it’s that data privacy matters. In fact, only 6% of adults say they are “very confident” that government agencies can keep their records private and secure. Given this data, it’s apparent that the majority of Americans do not trust the government with their personal data. A serious effort by the federal government to pass data privacy legislation is exactly what we will need to get the driving public on board with the road usage charge.

If a road usage charge is the solution to our country moving away from the gas tax, then we will need the general public to get on board as well. Given America’s current attitude toward data privacy, it’s fair to assume that most drivers won’t rally behind putting trackers in their cars because they’re simply not comfortable. So, how do we make drivers more comfortable with this solution?

A federal law must be passed that protects individuals’ location data from being used by law enforcement. If we can eliminate the idea that one’s location data could be used for criminal proceedings, this would create a layer of comfort for those that remain apprehensive.

This federal law is just one example of many others that could be passed to give American drivers a sense of security and safety. The federal government must actively gain the general public’s trust and show exactly how this location data will be used.

Another key to implementing the RUC successfully will require making the general driving public aware of why the RUC has been proposed and how it can benefit them. Most people have never heard of this proposed solution, let alone the fact that the government may put GPS trackers in their vehicles one day. A slow, disjointed process of informing the public of the RUC will be the demise of any successful implementation. Therefore, by simply informing drivers of the facts and benefits of the RUC, we could create comfort and security among the public.

Through protecting our citizen’s privacy and generating trust, we can then foster adoption to move to a sustainable funding model for our roads.

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