Should Large Vehicles Be Taxed to Curb Pedestrian Deaths?



Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis (Getty Images)

The number of pedestrian fatalities in the United States is at its highest level in over three decades. Coincidentally, there are more SUVs, crossover SUVs and pick-up trucks on the country’s roads and streets than ever before. Over half of America’s vehicle sales currently are of models in those categories. While drivers of large vehicles aren’t more likely than those in coupes or sedans to hit pedestrians, studies have shown that large vehicles are more likely to kill a person than injure them.

Several proposals have been discussed to reduce road deaths, including a mandate for automakers to install intelligent speed-limiting technology in new models. However, a professor at the University of Hawaii feels there’s an effective solution that could be more easily implemented and help fund further measures to make roads safer. He wants to charge a tax on large vehicles.

This idea isn’t without a real-world example. Justin Tyndall, an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, cited a proposal from our nation’s capitol in an article he wrote on Streetsblog. Washington, D.C. council members have proposed legislation where the district would charge higher registration fees for heavier vehicles. The base fee is $72 per year. The cost would increase to $175 for vehicles weighing 3,500 pounds or more. At 5,000 pounds, the registration fee increases to $250. The proposal’s third and highest fee tier is $500 and starts at 6,000 pounds. For reference, the 2022 Toyota Highlander Hybrid LE has a curb weight of 4,465 pounds.

Tyndall states, “Assessing a fee as part of vehicle registration offers a convenient option that would confront drivers with the cost of their choice, reminding them that a change in vehicle would be met with savings.” The line of reason is that the fee would discourage SUV purchases. Hopefully, seeing a decrease in SUV sales, automakers would be encouraged to produce smaller models.

Another interesting aspect of taxing larger vehicles is where the revenue raised could be spent. The D.C. proposal would have the money spent on the D.C. Safe Routes to School program, an initiative aimed at encouraging students to walk and bicycle to school as well as making their commutes safer. Ideas like a large vehicle registration fee could feed a positive feedback loop where the roads become safer for everyone.

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