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British Brouhaha: Big Brother Will Soon Be Watching Motorists

Edmunds | June 10, 2005

LONDON, England — Controversy is raging in Britain over a government proposal to charge motorists per mile driven.

A satellite monitoring system will be used for the scheme, which has provoked complaints from motoring groups, environmentalists and civil liberties organizations. U.K. transport minister Alistair Darling wants to see the system being tested within five years and implemented by 2015.

In return, fuel taxes would be cut, lowering gas prices but causing angry protests from the green lobby. The government admits the proposed per-mile charges will be the same regardless of car type — a gas-guzzling SUV will pay the same as a small city car.

The plans include the installation of a satellite-tracking "black box" in all U.K. cars that will allow the government to charge motorists by the mile — from 4 cents for driving on a country road at night to $2.40 for driving through the city or on a freeway during rush hour.

Darling told the BBC the plans would make motoring cheaper for half of all motorists. He stressed the plans were an attempt to prevent gridlock, not a way to raise money. Nevertheless, motorists' groups predictably attacked the plans as "profiteering" and civil liberties groups said it was an invasion of privacy; they feared a "Big Brother" society in which the government would be able to trace everyone's movements.

What this means to you: The British government is serious about this plan, even though it's seriously flawed. But if it's shown to be able to raise revenue, it's possible other governments will want to adopt it.




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