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Comment of the Week: Raise the gas tax one penny per fatality

Posted by on March 25th, 2016 at 4:17 pm

exxon

How to get people’s attention?
(Photo: Blink Ofanaye)

Want to end traffic deaths? Try hitting people in the wallet.

That was the crazy-like-a-fox idea Pat Franz shared in a comment on Wednesday’s post about the known dangerous crossing of Cully Boulevard at Mason, where Patrick Curry died Saturday night as he tried to walk across the street.

Here’s Franz’s modest proposal:

How about we increase the gas tax by $0.01 for every vulnerable road user death? I know it sounds crass, a penny per life, but it would point out the incredible crassness of how we don’t pay for things, even when there is a clear need. The tax might eventually get so high that there could be effective social scorn for the killers, who knows?

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Doesn’t sound at all crass to us — at least, not any crasser than a society that saw traffic fatalities jump 15 percent last year because gasoline got cheaper.

The fastest year-on-year increase in the country was Oregon’s.

Yes, we pay for good comments. This regular feature is sponsored by readers who’ve become BikePortland subscribers to keep our site and our community strong. We’ll be sending $5 and a little goodie bag to Pat in thanks for this great addition. Watch your email!

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Opus the PoetPete9wattsDan AJason 2 Recent comment authors
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John Liu
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John Liu

This treats all automobile drivers as a class, and proposes that everyone of that class be punished for the actions of anyone in that class.

How about “for every terrorist act by a Muslim, all Muslims in America are punished.”

That’s an odious proposal that certain politicians are making, and similarly this is an odious proposal for BP to publicize.

SK
Guest

A penny for your deaths.

Dwaine Dibbly
Guest
Dwaine Dibbly

I think it’s brilliant. Set aside 1/4 for safety improvements, 1/4 for road maintenance, 1/4 for prosecutors, and 1/4 for victims & families.

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

I would prefer to limit the increase to those deaths that are caused by motorists breaking the law (100%) and dedicate the funds primarily to traffic law enforcement. That’s more targeted at the problem (the dangerous habits that motorists develop in the absence of enforcement) and won’t be seen as benefiting one class of user over any others.

Jim
Guest
Jim

And what tax is levied on cyclists, who cause injury (don’t argue, we all know it happens), or do something unpredictable, illegal in traffic causing drivers or pedestrians to swerve and/or have an accident? Maybe special taxes on all cycle related products?

9watts
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Jim
or do something unpredictable, illegal in traffic causing drivers or pedestrians to swerve and/or have an accident?
Recommended 1

This is such a tiresome bit of conjecture. I love how we can’t actually point to this having happened (though I suppose it has, somewhere) but we instead invent this trope of the domino-effect-of-the-scofflaw-cyclist-in-traffic to distract from the actual everyday problem of people in cars quite unprompted crashing into just about anything you’d care to imagine: houses, people, trees, bridges, malls, health food stores, bogs, dogs, children, grandmothers, wildlife, leaving no end of death and destruction in their wake.

SE
Guest
SE

so for every 100 gallons that you buy, another dollar out of your pocket ?

is that some kind of joke ?

Pat Franz
Guest
Pat Franz

The “class punishment” argument is an interesting distraction, and presented as it was, dishonest.

The difference is this: there is nothing inherent in being a Muslim that is dangerous to others. There is, however, inherent danger to others by being a driver. It is inescapable. By being a driver, you endanger others. An important part of that endangerment comes from inadequate infrastructure. Infrastructure that the act of driving does not fully pay for, leaving it inadequate to protect others from your choice to drive.

Yes, how careful or not careful a driver you are usually has a big effect on how much you endanger others. And yes, we need more effective measures directed at that difference. But as pissy as my original comment was, the fact remains that the choice to drive endangers others who did not volunteer to be endangered- and part of the reason why is that as drivers, we don’t pay for the cost of driving. As drivers, we don’t pay the cost to provide roads, we don’t pay the environmental costs, and we don’t pay the many costs of endangering others.

It is true we as a society derive a lot of benefits from driving, but the costs and benefits are not fairly distributed and in fact have gotten quite out of whack. Right now, by choosing to drive, you are choosing to accept a smorgasbord of subsidies, including the right to significantly endanger others. By choosing not to drive, you are choosing possibly significant endangerment for yourself along with comparative crumbs of a subsidy.

Taxing fuels is not a perfect way to correct things, and it’s not the fix for everything, but it is basically fair, very simple, and bears directly on the infrastructure part of the problem. The very real problems of careless driving, drunk driving, distracted driving, etc. etc. are certainly more difficult to solve, but I would say reminding drivers of the danger they pose, and the costs, is an important step in making change.

Skid
Guest
Skid

How about we prosecute vulnerable road user deaths? Punish the person who is actually responsible for the death.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

I think we should take a fairer approach and put cameras in all travel corridors where cyclest and pedestrians are at risk . Then have a volunteer staffed center where the cameras can be monitored and safety violations tallied, just like counting salmon. Things like speeding, running red lights, failure to yield to a pedestrian could be added up and for every 1000 or so violations the gas tax could be raised by $.001. Because no individual citations are given the messy and expensive business of determing driver id, and court hearings are removed. Maybe then drivers would pressure their scofflaw friends to fall in line and behave in a safe manor so gas taxes don’t rise to the moon. Either way the outcome is good.

Jason 2
Guest
Jason 2

Bottom line to the whole thing is to remember that we are supposed to share the road. This implies certain responsibility on the part of all road users, including cyclists and pedestrians. Most of the time when a vulnerable road user is hit the blame can be shared by both the driver and the cyclist. We must all do our part or else little will be accomplished toward reducing accidents.

Dan A
Subscriber
Dan A

http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2011/05/20/136462246/when-bikes-and-cars-collide-whos-more-likely-to-be-at-fault

This article cites studies where the cyclist was said to be at fault 44%, 49% or 16% of the time.

Personally, I’d take these ‘studies’ with a big dose of salt. Who is assigning fault in each of these cases? The NYPD just assigned fault to a pedestrian that a police officer ran over in the crosswalk.

Opus the Poet
Guest

Wrong species, we need it to be a brontosaurus.

Opus the Poet
Guest

OK I looked up the data for OR in FARS and the gas tax would have been $0.64/gallon this year for y’all. Texas drivers would be coughing up $5.26/gallon in tax, while the federal tax would be $52.80/gallon. I think we could get some reduction in vulnerable road users dying with that kind of tax.