getting around

The Case for Taxing Vehicles by Weight

Photo: Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

“They just told me my baby’s here,” Deion Sanders says as he wanders into his driveway to pose with his brand-new Ford F-650. It’s a tuxedo-black, diesel-powered behemoth that weighs approximately 26,000 pounds, according to an estimate from David Baum Jr., sales manager at Lewisville Autoplex, which sold Sanders the vehicle. Photos shared on Sanders’s son’s YouTube channel show the six-foot-one Sanders standing in front of the truck, eye-level with the hood. There is no earthly reason a football coach at the University of Colorado Boulder would need an F-650, which is best suited to hauling building materials to construction sites. Which is why Sanders’s baby is, in its grotesque and highly customized splendor, a perfect argument for taxing vehicles by weight. Owning one of these things should, at the very least, be mind-blowingly expensive.

Over the past few decades, U.S. automakers have virtually phased out smaller cars, replacing them with larger vehicles that are worse for humanity in just about every way: Their size requires more gas to operate, their weight deteriorates roads at a faster rate, and their mass makes them deadly — being hit by a pickup truck is more likely to kill you than a sedan. Electric vehicles, while eliminating the issue of tailpipe emissions, are often heavier and more powerful than their gas counterparts. Although some states do charge drivers extra to register some types of heavier vehicles, these amounts are pennies compared to what other countries charge. In France, buying a vehicle that weighs this much would, hypothetically, cost an extra $100,000. A federal tax would be the most direct way to go about this in the U.S., but Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg hasn’t touched the issue, and President Biden seems to really love big, heavy electric vehicles. Last year, however, Washington, D.C., became the first city to propose an additional charge for vehicle weight, which would tack on an extra $500 in annual fees for trucks and SUVs weighing more than 6,000 pounds. That’s still not enough to cover the societal costs, but it’s a good place to start if a city wants to simultaneously protect streets, pedestrians, and the planet.

Fees — even sizable ones — would likely do little to deter the purchase of an F-650 by someone like Sanders, whose coaching contract with CU is worth more than $29.5 million, but it might make your standard customer think twice about that vanity pickup purchase. So Colorado, tax your coach! And go Buffs!

The Case for Taxing Vehicles by Weight