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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!

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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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.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin

Nothing says it would be limited to just drivers. The way I read it, it would apply to all fatal crashes — whether they were caused by someone driving, biking, or whatever.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

I think the concept of “vulnerable road user” is well understood to refer to a pedestrian or cyclist killed by a driver of a vehicle who is guilty of careless driving under ORS 811.135(3). In concept, “vehicle” could include bicycle, but I have never heard of a cyclist prosecuted under 811.135(3). Is the proposal that the next time a cyclist kills himself in a fatal solo crash, the gas tax should be raised 1c?

soren
Guest

The idea that a bicycle is a vehicle is nonsense. My bicycle is no more a vehicle than my skate board, roller blades (yes I still have them), or shoes.

Jason 2
Guest
Jason 2

s,
Exactly right. A bicycle has a lot more in common with a pedestrian than it does with a car.

dan
Guest
dan

I would never take the lane as a pedestrian, but I’m comfortable doing it on a bike. Just sayin’

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

Interesting rebuttal.

Beeblebrox
Guest
Beeblebrox

It’s actually more like insurance. Everyone pays a little bit, and that ensures there is enough money to respond to catastrophic events.

Alex Reedin
Guest
Alex Reedin

And let’s not forget – people who don’t drive pay gas tax too, indirectly. When the gas tax goes up, ultimately prices at all stores go up a little because it increases the cost of trucking.

was carless
Guest
was carless

Here’s a thought: raise the gasoline tax, not the “USE FUEL” (aka diesel tax). Problem solved!

Opus the Poet
Guest

Then everyone would drive diesel cars to escape the tax, plus semis tear up the roads hundreds of times worse than cars, so trucks need to be taxed on their destructiveness. That’s one of the big reasons we got long haul freight moved from rails to trucks, the railroads are privately owned and maintained while trucks are heavily subsidized.

9watts
Subscriber

“proposes that everyone of that class be punished for the actions of anyone in that class.”

I don’t see it that way at all. Where do you get the idea that a gas tax is a punishment? It is (or could be) our ticket out of this crazy good-for-nothing mess we’re in where the potential alternatives to the car have been starved for generations *and* climate change has us on the hook to leave the fossil fuels in the ground. The punishment is doing nothing, continuing to sit on our a$$es.

I too think Pat’s idea is brilliant!

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

This week’s comment of the week: “How about we increase the gas tax by $0.01 for every vulnerable road user death? …’ is of amazingly bad taste and judgment. It’s not even very funny as a joke, though some people do enjoy sick humor.

Should any serious, responsible minded person really want to have the gas tax correlate directly to the deaths of anyone, vulnerable road user, or not? If you want to make people hate you, gas tax increases by this means might a sure way to do it.

Bad drivers responsible for killing vulnerable road users, likely aren’t going to be upset that their bad behavior directly increased the gas tax. Some of them might even enjoy the effect this idea as law would allow them to have. I suppose the idea carried further, would be to use the sordidly gained revenues to somehow have the roads and streets become safer for use by vulnerable road users, i.e. people on foot and with bikes, skateboards, etc.

That kind of association has its drawbacks. Better to work harder towards making a strong case for roads to be safer for people not using them with motor vehicles. Without having people’s deaths become a condition for raising the money to do it.

9watts
Guest
9watts

“Bad drivers responsible for killing vulnerable road users, likely aren’t going to be upset that their bad behavior directly increased the gas tax. ”

That is kind of a parochial way to look at Pat’s proposal. I didn’t take his idea as motivated to shame the individual but rather as a collective motivator to render visible, focus more attention on—and find ways to reduce the probability of—this sort of thing. We might agree that at the present death-by-automobile is treated rather casually by our society in general. We do almost nothing meaningful to address the problem. But if you monetized the issue in the manner suggested, I think you’d be surprised how quickly people took notice, started thinking of ways to solve this, since continuing to ignore the problem was now directly linked to something symbolically perceived as significant: how much I’m paying to put dead dinosaurs in my car’s tank.

A.H.
Guest
A.H.

Nice strawman, chump.

Dave
Guest
Dave

I agree with you–and very much agree with the tax for that reason! The behavior of such a large number of drivers–phoning, speeding, agressive driving–is such that they/we all deserve to be treated as guilty before proven innocent in the eyes of the law. American drivers have behaved so badly especially since the availability of cellular telephones, that they deserve the discrimination and the deprivation of rights. We are talking about chosen behavior that kills something like 28,000 people per year prematurely. Any American bicyclist who views drivers as human beings deserving of equal treatment before the law is but a naive child.

Jason 2
Guest
Jason 2

JL,
Fact is, no politician is proposing the punishment of all Muslims that you refer to. Please don’t make stuff up out of thin air.

However, I do agree with you that the proposed “comment of the week” is ridiculous. I’d vote this proposal to raise the gas tax one penny per fatality to be the ludicrous comment of the week.

Dave
Guest
Dave

I guess it is ridiculous–a ridiculously small amount of $ per fatality, that is.

Dan A
Subscriber
Dan A

If it’s a state tax, it raise $4 a gallon by the end of the year.

bdlandoe
Subscriber
bdlandoe

There is an enormous difference between a protected, immutable quality (like religion, ethnicity, sexual preference, etc.) and an activity, like driving, that comes with negative externalities. Taxing those externalities is in no way akin to profiling.

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
Subscriber

Someone always pulls this one. But it’s just silly.
The problem as we all know is the 33,000 killed-by-people-poorly-piloting-cars, not the 1.25(?) killed by people riding bikes/yr. I suspect that forks or umbrellas or bathtubs kill more people than bikes every year. Why the attempted equivalence?

Dan A
Subscriber
Dan A

That NPR story says 2015 had an estimated 38,300 deaths.

Rob Chapman
Guest
Rob Chapman

^??!!!!! That’s unacceptable.

Dan A
Subscriber
Dan A

And that’s to say nothing of the 4.4 MILLION who were seriously injured.

bendite
Guest
bendite

Pre-recession, it was around 45,000 deaths a year. Don’t worry about it though, ISIS is much more scary and deserving of our energy.

gutterbunnybikes
Guest

There is somewhere between 3-5 deaths in an average year in US casued by bicycle riders hitting pedistrians (I had the actual numbers on my last computer – can seem to find where I stashed those stats on this one). About the same number of auto users are killed in collisions with bicycles (though there is no real information on whose fault the collision is on these bicycle vs. car stats).

9watts
Subscriber

Well, there you go – a ratio of 10,000:1.
How much time and energy should we devote to each of the two sides of that ratio?

What I love most about Pat’s suggestion is the feedback it provides, the dynamic quality of this sort of arrangement. We have altogether too few feedback mechanisms woven into our economic and political life. The attention to deaths-by-automobile—and the public pressure to reduce them—would build quickly and become immense were we to index these to the cost of gasoline at the pump. Can you imagine?
I vote Pat for honorary advisor to the Commissioner who’ll be in charge of Transportation this next round, or better yet give him half of Leah Treat’s immense salary. Maybe he’ll come up with more of these gems.

soren
Guest

And pedestrians also kill other pedestrians (and even bicycle riders) very infrequently.

Dan A
Subscriber
Dan A

Pedestrians with guns are almost as dangerous as cars.

meh
Guest
meh

You make it sound like there are 33K vulnerable users killed. But that is not the case. The majority of those killed are the drivers of the vehicles. But it’s always a nice statistic to bandy about without context in these arguments.

9watts
Subscriber

I think everyone knows what the 3x,000 figure refers to, meh. But if you really want to put a fine point on it, you could argue that those people inside metal boxes with wheels turned out to be more vulnerable than they perhaps expected. Maybe we’re all vulnerable road users?

Opus the Poet
Guest

Of the 33k killed in 2013, 4500 were pedestrians and 730 were cyclists, so the national gas tax would have been $5.23 a gallon in 2014 using this formula instead of $0.18.

Pete
Guest
Pete

One problem is the number of cyclist collisions that aren’t reported. Yes, deaths tend to be, but injuries are impossible to track.

I was at a PTA meeting a few weeks ago where the mayor and police chief reported on their “ride-a-long” experience after a high school student asked them to accompany him by bicycle to school one morning to see what it’s like. They were shocked! What was shocking to me, though, were the number of parents who had recently learned (in light of this publicity) that their children had been hit by cars on multiple commutes through the years and never told anybody. It was only when the PTA asked the parents to ask their children about their biking and walking experiences that it actually came up.

Incidentally, the most popular request from these parents at this meeting? More green paint on the bike lanes at intersections.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

Jim
cyclists…do something unpredictable, illegal in traffic causing drivers or pedestrians to swerve and/or have an accident?

I’m not a cyclist, but I sometimes have to scream “hey!” when a driver starts to illegally cut in front of my bike in traffic. It is rather predictable and just as legal as honking. I guess it might cause those who were staring at their phone to have an “accident” in their pants. Is that what your proposed bike tax is about?

bendite
Guest
bendite

You’re not a cyclist but you ride a bike?

soren
Subscriber

are you a shoeist because you use shoes to walk?

9watts
Subscriber

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.

Pete
Guest
Pete

Ooh, especially if you let bicyclists take a left turn at a red light that doesn’t change, or treat a stop sign as a yield. The carnage would be unfathomable!

Cats and dogs, living together…

Pete
Guest
Pete

Think of the children, er, storefronts…

http://www.storefrontsafety.org

SE
Guest
SE

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

is that some kind of joke ?

9watts
Subscriber

Based on the outrage about gas taxes more generally it seems that a lot of folks don’t think the *rate* contemplated here is particularly jokey.

Jason 2
Guest
Jason 2

The problem is that it would not be long at all before you were paying an extra dollar for EACH GALLON of fuel purchased just for the tax in this ridiculous “comment of the week”, and not long after that it would be an extra $2, $3, etc.

9watts
Subscriber

Ooooooh. Scary!
And even then we wouldn’t be nearly caught up with, say, Norway, where the tax on gasoline translates to about $3.87/gal, for a retail price of $10.76 per gallon.

Dave
Guest
Dave

So? We are very spoiled in this country by our tiny little gas tax level. Our gas tax is a Yorkie–we need for it to be a Great Dane!

Dave
Guest
Dave

Yes, and it’s a brilliant idea. NO 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.

Dave
Guest
Dave

In the case of motor vehicle drivers, I don’t shy from calling it class punishment and think it happens to be an excellent idea.

Jason 2
Guest
Jason 2

Taxing gas is done and is mostly accepted. However the proposed tax would soon cause gas to be unaffordable.
Your understanding on other matters that you brought up is flawed:
http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/pages/quran/violence.aspx

Dan A
Subscriber
Dan A

Nope, people would just use less.

Skid
Guest
Skid

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

9watts
Subscriber

I see Pat’s suggestion as a(an admittedly novel) way of making this more likely, of drawing attention to the present lack of attention this subject receives in our society.

are
Guest

i really think we need to focus on reducing the carnage rather than revenging ourselves on people who screwed up

Dan A
Subscriber
Dan A

Penalizing the guilty is a way to help reduce the carnage.

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.

9watts
Subscriber

“Most of the time when a vulnerable road user is hit the blame can be shared by both the driver and the cyclist.”

When this question has been studied, the matter of fault most of the time isn’t nearly as evenly distributed as you suggest.

Opus the Poet
Guest

There was a Quebec study that put cyclists at fault 70% of the time from the physical evidence of fatal wrecks, while an Aussie study done with video cameras put it at 87% for all wrecks, not just the fatal ones studied in the Quebec research.

9watts
Subscriber

Opus,
my recollection from those studies was actually the exact opposite. That upwards of 70% of the time the driver was found to have been at fault. They (the studies I’m thinking of) were discussed in a Monday Roundup here some years back.

Opus the Poet
Guest

Yep, up too late and having a brain fart

Pete
Guest
Pete
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

That was supposed to be a reply to Dave’s Yorkie comment.

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.