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Shifting Gears to Find a Gas Tax Alternative and Fight Impaired Driving

Forecast ’24: Lawmakers in 2024 legislative sessions will continue to debate road user charges and EV charging fees, while getting tough on impaired driving.

By NCSL Staff  |  November 28, 2023

In their 2024 legislative sessions, states will continue both their search for ways to increase transportation funding as gas tax revenue declines, and their efforts to keep road users safe from impaired drivers.

Here’s a look at what NCSL anticipates in the year ahead.

NCSL Forecast ’24

This special report from State Legislatures News covers the topics NCSL’s policy experts anticipate will occupy state lawmakers’ time in 2024 legislative sessions. Read the full report here.

Hot Topic: Replacing Gas Tax Revenue

As the federal government and automakers pursue a new vanguard of vehicles that use little or no gas, state transportation budget writers regard the future with wary eyes.

For more than 100 years, states have leaned on revenue from gas taxes—Oregon established the nation’s first one in 1919—to support the planning, construction and maintenance of their surface transportation systems. But with electric vehicle purchases increasing sharply, and heightened fuel efficiency for vehicles that do still run on gas, the motor fuel tax is on shaky ground for the first time in its history.

Although fuel taxes still represented the largest revenue source for transportation funds in 2022 at 38.4%, they were down nearly 3 percentage points from 2018, when motor fuel taxes comprised 41.1% of state transportation revenue.

ACTION: States are considering a few direct user fee options to replace or supplement the state gas tax.

Road usage charges, or RUC, require drivers to pay based on miles driven, instead of gallons of fuel consumed. Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Virginia have established voluntary RUC programs for electric or alternate fuel vehicles. In Oregon and Virginia, drivers with certain higher fuel efficiency vehicles may participate as well. Typically, vehicle owners may pay an annual enhanced electric vehicle registration fee, which 30-plus states have in place, or enroll in a voluntary RUC program, with the amount paid in RUC capped at the registration fee amount.  

At least 12 states—Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Washington—considered RUC legislation in 2023, with the bills in Hawaii, Michigan, Vermont, Virginia and Washington becoming law.

Hawaii paved the way for a mandatory RUC in 2023. Until 2028, electric vehicle owners may pay a $50 EV registration surcharge instead of participating in the RUC program; after that date, the RUC will become mandatory. The state Transportation Department has yet to develop a long-term mileage-based RUC plan for passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks. The RUC will be calculated and collected via odometer readings during required annual vehicle inspections.

Vermont enacted legislation to study and prepare for a mileage-based user fee for all battery-electric vehicles registered starting in 2025, pending future authorization.

Trending: Charging Fees to Charge the EVs

States accelerated their adoption in 2023 of EV charging fees, also known as per-kilowatt hour fees. At least seven states—Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Utah—enacted legislation to tax electricity consumed at public EV charging stations, with most states creating these fees in the last two legislative sessions. Stakeholders hope the fees, assessed when drivers use the charging stations, will capture revenue from out-of-state EV drivers who otherwise would not be paying into a state’s transportation fund.

Many transportation experts believe the United States has reached “peak gas tax” and that as policymakers continue their search for ways to fund state transportation systems in the years ahead, they will continue to debate the merits of both user fees, including road usage charges and per-kilowatt hour fees, and non-user fee revenue, such as sales taxes.

NCSL Resources:

Hot Topic: Cracking Down on Impaired Driving

Traffic crashes and fatalities remain near all-time highs, with 42,939 deaths in 2021. Of those, 13,384 people were killed in alcohol-impaired traffic crashes, a 14% increase from 2020.

Polysubstance-impaired driving, in which the vehicle operator has consumed a mix of drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol, also contributes to the growing number of impaired-driving crashes. A recent study, using data from four laboratories, found that nearly half of drivers tested positive for more than one drug category, such as alcohol, cannabis or stimulants.

However, drug-impaired driving statistics underestimate the problem because, unlike the BAC test for alcohol, there are no standardized drug-testing protocols or established impairment thresholds.

ACTION: Interventions to combat and identify impaired driving are likely to gain popularity in states in 2024. These include the use of oral fluid roadside screening devices, which analyze a person’s saliva for the presence of specific drugs. This screening method is rapid and noninvasive. However, a positive result obtained through a device is preliminary and requires additional testing to determine impairment.

At least 27 states have statutes authorizing oral fluid, saliva or bodily specimen use in DUI cases. However, most of these states do not collect oral fluid in practice. Alabama and Indiana have permanent oral fluid roadside screening programs. Michigan allowed for the collection of oral fluid during the state’s pilot program. And Minnesota legislation legalizing recreational cannabis included funding for an oral fluid roadside testing pilot.

Trending: Requiring Ignition Interlocks

Another common intervention to prevent impaired driving is the use of ignition interlock devices, or IIDs, which prevent vehicles from starting if a certain amount of alcohol is detected in a driver’s breath. While all states have passed IID laws, 31 states and Washington, D.C., require all first-time DUI offenders to install an IID. The focus in future legislative sessions will likely shift to addressing gaps in state interlock laws.

Trending: Paying Child Support

At least 19 states considered or enacted legislation in 2023 requiring impaired drivers convicted of vehicular homicide to pay child support for victims’ surviving children. Tennessee became the first state to enact such legislation in 2022, followed by Kentucky, Maine and Texas in 2023. In 2024, expect more of the same—and other measures to toughen penalties for impaired driving.

NCSL Resources:

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