Our aggressive, impatient, or just plain dumb driving habits make local government a lot of money. In other words: Governments across the country count on our bad behavior behind the wheel to pay their bills. Speeding tickets alone send $6.2 billion into city, county, and state treasuries every year, and a fifth of American drivers contribute. Then there are red-light tickets, drunk driving tickets, and parking tickets. Breaking traffic laws is big business.
Where all this ticket money goes varies jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but let’s take Pennsylvania as an example. In it there were 959,186 guilty traffic dispositions in 2014. For each one, $8 went to maintain the computer systems used by judges and police, $2 to legal representation for the poor, $7.50 to rural EMS, $2.50 to a public fund for victims of traumatic injury, $38.50 to state and county courts, and another $8 to courts for those who requested a hearing. The rest of each fine went to public transportation, towing, and state, local, and county general treasuries. And that’s not even counting the 143,343 red-light-camera cases that also sent money into the system.
Here’s the problem: Autonomous cars are programmed to be saints. They don’t speed. They don’t drive drunk, run red lights, or park where they’re not supposed to (unless you program bad behavior into the system). As a result, the amount of money filling government coffers is going to drop substantially as more and more purely autonomous cars hit the road. Where are they going to make up the difference?
The Brookings Institution, another U.S. think tank, proposes an paid app that unlocks your vehicle for use. Every time you want to start your car’s engine, you have to log in and let it track you, and it bills you for every mile you drive. On the one hand, it’s easy to imagine American drivers flying into a blind rage at thought of being asked to pay a fare to ride in their own car. On the other hand, we’re all paying out every month to use a smartphone that we “own.”