Californians driving bigger cars could be charged more in vehicle registration fees

A line of cars parked next to one another.
Range Rover SUVs at a car dealership in 2020.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Big cars and trucks could end up costing California drivers more in vehicle registration fees, if a new bill that was introduced in the state Legislature is approved.

Vehicle registration fees in California are based on the value of the car, but a bill introduced by Assemblymember Christopher M. Ward (D-San Diego) would look at what the impact could be if there was a fee based on weight.

Assembly Bill 251 would also launch a study into the connection between vehicle weight and injuries to and deaths of pedestrians and bicyclists.


“We know there are studies suggesting fatality rates can be higher for crashes involving heavier vehicles — especially models weighing several thousand pounds,” Ward said in a statement. “AB 251 will look further into the relationship between vehicle weight and injuries to help inform policy in the future.”

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According to a 2020 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an insurance industry trade group, larger cars like SUVs are “disproportionately likely” to injure or kill pedestrians.

The study analyzed 82 crashes with pedestrians and found that while crashes at low and high speeds tended to result in similar injuries with different types of vehicles, crashes at “intermediate speeds” caused more serious injuries when they involved an SUV.

If the bill is signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, it wouldn’t necessarily mean owners of SUVs and trucks would immediately start paying higher vehicle registration fees.

Ward’s bill, which was introduced Jan. 18, would ask the California Transportation Commission to create a task force to look at the possible connection between vehicle weight and injuries. It would also study whether higher fees would affect drivers’ behavior, and how the revenue from the fees could be used to improve safety features on the roads for pedestrians and cyclists.

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The report would have to be submitted by Jan. 1, 2026.

If California does change the way it assesses vehicle registration fees, it won’t be the first in the United States to base them on a vehicle’s weight.


Several states do that, including New York, New Jersey, Florida, New Mexico, Virginia, North Dakota and South Dakota, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.