Channel 19

Todd Dills

Dear American people: ‘You are about to be tracked 24/7’

| March 09, 2013
Many owner-operators object to a vehicle-miles-traveled tax, for various reasons including privacy concerns.

Many owner-operators object to a vehicle-miles-traveled tax, for various reasons including privacy concerns.

Jason Haggard, an owner-operator I’ve talked to in past about his custom-spreadsheet solution in lieu of purchase of an owner-operator software package, had this to say to the U.S. public upon hearing news of talk of a vehicle-miles-traveled/usage tax to replace or supplement fuels taxes rearing its head in the House of Representatives: “This requires mandatory GPS tracking devices in all vehicles,” Haggard noted, commenting on our Facebook page (unless, of course, we want to create all-toll highway infrastructure, big long shot). “Everyone said it would never happen but here we are. Wake up America: you are about to be tracked 24/7 and you get to pay for this ‘service.'”

He’s got a point, for sure, but if the breathless headline over results from a recent insurance-related poll of consumers — that proverbial “America,” no doubt, though only a slight 500 members of it — is correct, it could be falling on deaf ears. Ring the gongs, folks:

CarInsurance.com survey finds many drivers would welcome Big Brother

“A new survey by CarInsurance.com finds drivers would be willing to trade a lot of their privacy in return for a discount on their car insurance rates.”

Look closely, though, and that “many” and “a lot” of drivers turns out to be, well, not so many. The only technology that a majority of respondents said they would willingly install in exchange for an insurance discount was a breathalyzer — and only 64 percent would even do that. Other results are as follows:

  • 39% would let an insurance company install a data-monitoring device.
  • 37% would install a cellphone disabling device.
  • 28% would let an insurance company limit their car’s speed.
  • 27% would severely restrict their driving miles.
  • 24% would severely restrict when they drive.
  • 20% would let an insurance company install an observation camera.

As Carinsurance.com notes, there are no discounts currently for breathalyzers, speed governors, in-car cameras or cellphone disabling devices in the consumer market — “but insurers are rapidly rolling out what are known as pay-as-you-drive plans, with substantial discounts for installing devices that monitor driving habits, the number of miles driven and the time of day the driver is on the road.”

As I’ve reported here, such plans may soon also be based on speed and road class where drivers are actually driving.

Setting aside the potential ancillary benefits to tracking such data for your own purposes, if such small minorities of consumers would go along with such intrusion to get back money, given a tax is what it is, ultimately Haggard is correct in suggesting what may ultimately prove to be a wide, broad-based backlash to any such attempt to move toward VMT as the standard for raising highway-infrastructure revenue.

Congress/regulators may have better luck, God forbid, selling it as a safety solution and limiting it to commercial operations — they’ve already got their EOBRs coming down the pike. Just think: complicated IFTA calculations as fatiguing, taking up drivers’ brain space and distracting them from from safe driving. It’s an epidemic! Oh lord…

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