Caution: Major Legal Pothole Ahead

August 20, 2010

HVA’s Director of Government Relations, Carmel Roberts, tells how a common problem and an old stereotype could mean a bumpy road ahead for historical vehicle enthusiasts.

One of the core objectives of the Historic Vehicle Association is to be proactive in safeguarding the rights of all historic motorists. In an effort to protect the interests of historic motorists against potential threats, a large part of our effort involves getting out ahead of the issues by monitoring social and political trends. 

A good example of a public-policy trend that could financially impact historic motorists in every state is the nationwide deficit in road funding.

Most motorists don’t give a lot of thought to the basic issue of having decent roads to drive on, but the expense of “Keeping Yesterday’s Vehicles on Tomorrow’s Roads” will inevitably rise and the cumulative expense for some historic vehicle owners may become too much of a financial burden to bear.

According to several notable studies, funding the expansion and regular maintenance of America’s road system is in a state of financial crisis. In the United States, the cumulative shortfall for transportation funding has been estimated at $1 trillion through 2015.

Not surprising, American motorists are expected to pick up the tab. States are continuously seeking new road-funding costs by tapping America’s 190 million licensed drivers. That means even greater taxes on fuel, motor vehicle fees, and increases in other automotive-related sources, such as increased tolls on some bridges and roads.

In Michigan, the goal to increase funding dollars took the form of HB 5897, which threatens to double the registration fee for all vehicles and would require an owner with historic plates to pay a $30 registration fee every year. That’s a 1000% fee increase (currently historic motorists pay a $30 registration fee every 10 years).

While everyone would agree in the value of having safe, solid roads on which to drive our regular and historic vehicles, there is also a practical value in asking our elected officials to honor the historic and cultural significance of the hobby. Likewise, modern cars and historical vehicles should never be put in the same category and when elected officials forget and treat them equally it can lead to unreasonable use-restrictions, increased taxes and fees that are unreasonable and unfair.

The majority of classic vehicle owners are of average income and, in many cases, have had cars, trucks, motorcycles and wooden boats handed down to them as cherished family heirlooms. I’ve heard from many and they tell me that—while everyone understands there are costs to driving their vehicles on the open road—such fees should proportionately reflect actual use. Since all 50 states restrict use on vehicles with historic plates to some extent it’s not surprising that many have told me that if these taxes and fee-hikes continue it will make holding onto their vehicles increasingly difficult.

While this runs contrary to the stereotype most people have of historic vehicle owners—one that says historic vehicle ownership and wealth go hand in hand—this is simply not true and is a misconception that we must also work to change.

The interplay between these issues and trends serves as a good reminder of why being proactive and diligent in the protection, preservation, and promotion of historic vehicles is so important. It also serves as a reminder that sometimes the worst obstacles we encounter on the road are those things we never expected or didn’t see coming.


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