Share

POLITICS: PennAve

Big Ideas: The gas tax, affirmative action and robotic cars

By |
Supreme Court,PennAve,Joseph Lawler,Economy,Affirmative Action,Think Tanks,Law,Technology,Magazine,Gas Tax

Ike Brannon for the Bush Center: If we are to have a major federal role in transportation spending, the only solution to the current morass is to embrace a major change in how we fund roads by implementing a true user fee for automobiles to completely replace the gas tax. ...

[B]oth sides can argue that implementing something akin to a user fee is much more consistent with their party’s principles than the status quo.

For Republicans, it comes much closer to a market-oriented solution than a flat gas tax: With a vehicle-miles fee or some other sort of tolling mechanism, people are essentially buying something — access to a road — and the money they pay can stay with that road, reinforcing the market aspect of the transaction.

Democrats can insist that the fee for mile traveled vary by the emission rating of the car and also that it depend on the congestion of the road at any time, making it environmentally superior to the current system — the majority of car emissions today come from cars stopped in traffic. It would also increase the effective carrying capacity of our nation’s roads by moving some of the rush hour traffic to less busy times of the day, which would allow us to construct fewer new roads or lanes and still carry the same amount of traffic.

The civil libertarians will holler about the possibilities that such data could be used to catch speeders, track down cheating spouses, or in myriad other ways that would alarm the preponderance of males, so Congress would have to include firm and broad restrictions on the use of data by law enforcement. Such promises may not completely mollify the most ardent libertarians, but Congress has rarely let libertarian inclinations get in its way.

 

NO AFFIRMATIVE ACTION? NO PROBLEM

Richard Kahlenberg for the Century Foundation: The Supreme Court has given voters the green light to eliminate the use of racial preferences in college admissions, which is discouraging for racial diversity.

The court ruled 6-2 ... in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action that voters can amend a state constitution to ban race-based affirmative action by referendum, as Michigan voters did in 2006, 58 percent to 42 percent.

Colleges should heed the Supreme Court’s ruling and begin adopting new strategies to guarantee racial and socio-economic diversity on campus. ...

The good news is there are alternative ways to achieve diversity that can also deal with economic inequalities. There are proven race-neutral policies that universities can, and have already adopted, to deliver more opportunities for minority students to enroll in and succeed at college.

Giving a leg up in admissions to economically disadvantaged students of all races, eliminating legacy preferences, increasing financial aid, assisting students to transfer from community colleges to four-year degrees and admitting students at the top of every high school in the state, are just some of the ways colleges have delivered racial and socio-economic diversity without race-based affirmative action.

A recent study I conducted with my colleague Halley Potter found that seven out of 10 leading public universities were able to maintain or even increase the proportion of African-American and Latino students among their ranks by replacing race-based preferences with strategies that target socio-economic inequality.

 

LAWSUITS ARE NO OBSTACLE TO DRIVERLESS CARS

John Villasenor for the Brookings Institution: Motor vehicle accidents claimed over 33,000 lives in the United States in 2012 -- a number corresponding to an average of over 90 fatalities every day. Many of these deaths are directly attributable to a simple unfortunate fact: While most drivers are careful and conscientious, some are not. Motor vehicle accidents due to mistakes, poor judgment, poor driving skills or outright criminal negligence exact an enormous societal cost.

We take it for granted that this is a necessary price for the flexibility conferred by individual motor vehicle ownership. In the long run, this tradeoff will be viewed as a historical aberration, present only during the century or so when technology enabled the mass production of cars, but not of highly automated systems to help drive them safely and reliably. ...

The issue of liability invariably gets raised in policy discussions regarding autonomous vehicles. This is eminently sensible. When autonomous vehicles become involved in accidents, resolving the question of fault will indeed require considering novel and in some cases challenging questions. This paper, and the set of legislative guiding principles it provides, reflect a view that, subject to a few narrow exceptions, existing tort and contract law frameworks are generally very well-equipped to address these questions.

Thus, there is not a need to encumber the legal system with a new set of overly broad federal or state liability statutes relating to autonomous vehicles. Products liability law offers a time-tested framework that has proven to be adaptive to technology-driven liability issues in many other contexts. There is good reason to be optimistic that it will be equally capable of doing so when applied to autonomous vehicles.

View article comments Leave a comment