California is considering charging higher truck and SUV auto registration fees for heavier cars under a new bill in the state Legislature.
The automotive industry is growing apprehensive about what it could possibly mean for them.
Assembly Bill 251, authored by Assemblyman Chris Ward (D-San Diego), would require the California Transportation Commission (CTC) to convene a task force to study the relationship between vehicle weight and injuries to vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists, and to study the costs and benefits of imposing a passenger vehicle weight fee that would go towards street safety and improvement projects. The study would also look into how much revenue such a new weight fee could bring in as well as what weight limits could potentially be used as a cutoff.
The bill would require the CTC to submit a report to the legislature by the end of 2025. AB 251 would not enact a weight fee following submittal of the report, but could influence the DMV or other state officials to impose it later in the decade.
Assemblyman Ward wrote the bill due to studies showing that heavier SUVs and trucks have been causing more fatalities than standard weight vehicles and the possibility that a higher fee could help reduce the number of fatal or crippling accidents with fewer SUVS and trucks on the road.
“We know there are studies suggesting fatality rates can be higher for crashes involving heavier vehicles –– especially models weighing several thousand pounds,” said Ward in a statement on Thursday. “AB 251 will look further into the relationship between vehicle weight and injuries to help inform policy in the future.”
AB 251 gained the support of car accident victim organizations and networks since being introduced last month, with many noting that the bill has the potential to save lives.
“Drivers in these big cars cannot easily see what’s in front of them, especially when making turns,” explained Margaret O’Connell, a Pasadena resident who lost a close loved one in an accident involving an SUV ten years ago who now runs a victim recovery organization, to the Globe on Friday. “Drivers keep saying that the bigger size is for safety or to carry more people or to haul large loads. But it only benefits them , and puts everyone else at greater risk as a result. There needs to be some sort of equilibrium, that they need to pay more of a fair share outside of higher insurance premiums. A higher registration fee is a good place to start.”
However, those opposing the bill, which includes some automotive groups, said that AB 251 could financially harm many Californians as a result.
“A lot of these so called larger vehicles already pay a higher price through gas, through higher insurance, and through more garage visits for wear and tear,” countered Randy Hanks, an online car and truck consultant, to the Globe. “Adding a higher registration would only further the financial burden for a lot of people. A lot of agricultural and construction workers need larger vehicles for their jobs, and many are barely getting by right now. They’re affected. The landscaper trying to make it by in LA is affected too. Large families, again, many of whom are tight on money due to their sheer size, will also see more money out of their pocket. These people need larger vehicles, not simply want them. And we’d be unduly punishing them more for it.”
AB 251 is expected to be heard in the Assembly Transportation Committee later this month. Should it pass and later influence a new weight fee for car registrations, California would join 14 other states and the District Columbia in adding new weight fees. Fees in these states currently range from only $25 a year to $500 a year.
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