Camel in the tent #1: Driver’s Licenses

By Nathan Barton

Author’s Note: Hopefully the first in a series of commentaries on specific items which have contributed to the destruction of our liberties here in the Fifty States. There are many, which are often ignored as we deal with “big things” like the Income Tax, the Federal Reserve, and the various gun control laws.

Driver’s Licenses are destructive of human liberty. The history of driver’s licenses is a bad one.

I thought I knew a little bit about the history of drivers licenses here in the US, but found (on-line) sources that I assume are correct – although there is some disagreement in the sources. It is worse than I thought.

According to “A Brief History of the American Driver’s License” at Grounded Parents, the first year that drivers licenses were required for ALL drivers, not just professionals, was in 1903 when Massachusetts and Missouri began requiring them. The article states that South Dakota started requiring driver’s licenses for driving private vehicles in 1954; the last state to do so.

A government site (obviously to be taken with a grain of salt) of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) [pdf] lists the dates of states requiring both drivers licenses AND drivers license examinations. It confirms the Grounded Parents article on some things, including South Dakota.

The intent was obviously NOT (as usually claimed) safety. For example, South Dakota required licenses starting in 1954, but did not require exams until 1959, five years later. Missouri (one of the first states to require licenses for every driver) did not require testing until 1952: forty-nine years later! This was not uncommon, though some states (for example, New Mexico in 1927 and Wyoming in 1947) immediately required exams when they started requiring licenses.

I have my doubts about some of the information, based on personal knowledge. My grandfather, born in 1906, who lived in Colorado beginning in 1941, told me that private drivers (not commercial drivers) were not required to have licenses in Colorado until 1955, the year I was born. I have not been able to confirm this, but have no reason to doubt what he told me in the mid-1970s. (In researching that, I visited title 42 of Colorado Revised Statutes “Vehicles and Traffic,” which I was stunned to find is 706 pages long: more on that later.)

In fact, there were a half-dozen states requiring licenses by 1909 when Pennsylvania became the first state to put age restrictions on licenses: PA required you be 18. Today, I think that South Dakota is the only (or one of very few) allowing people as young as 14 to drive.

If not safety, why were licenses required? There seem to be three major reasons:

The first was to regulate what could be driven when and where: the license became a method of enforcing laws that did not allow driving at night, required cars to yield to horses, and of course, speed limits. Obviously, there was often SOME safety excuse for these laws, but in reality, there were strong political reasons, especially on the part of railroads and other competition. I suspect that livery stables and horse breeders may have had a wee bit of political influence, as well, especially in the first decades of the 20th Century.

Closely related to that was its use as an identification card. This was not just for driving but for many other purposes, and ESPECIALLY (once prohibition ended) for verifying age for purchasing alcohol. Many other uses followed, including cashing checks and registering for the draft, and the like. Today the fact is that DLs are in fact a national ID card and that record-keeping has grown far more complete and complex and can be accessed by more and more people, makes them a very bad deal for the past 60 years.

But a major reason was that drivers licenses are a revenue generator – not just for the DL costs but from enforcement fines, based on the very low level of driver testing required for decades – and really, even today.  But the fees have gone up and up, and of course, today the true Commercial Drivers Licenses cost a huge amount and require more and more training, testing, and proof of compliance (which is one very big reason it is so hard to find enough truckers these days).  Closely related to fee revenue is the creation and maintenance of a vast bureaucracy dedicated to the application and examination process and issuing the licenses, then maintaining the databases: there is NO county or community in the Fifty States that does not have a bureaucrat-staffed “Drivers Examination Station” or some equivalent, normally staffed by highly-paid state employees living on the taxpayer’s dime.

But the most serious attack on our liberty is its use as identification. A sheriff’s deputy or local reserve policeman can, from the comfort of their patrol car, call up information on who you are, passport information, your driving and criminal history going back two or even three decades, gun purchase records, concealed carry permits (and full gun licensing in those states which unconstitutionally require such), insurance information, some information on banking (like car loans and bankruptcy), outstanding (and past) warrants, outstanding (and past) fines, status of alimony and child support, and probably more that they aren’t telling us about. They know your physical home address, your phone number(s), and increasingly, your e-mail address(es).

It will just be getting worse.  And of course, since the DL virtually always has your birthday and some still have SSAN, the info is the gateway to identity theft and more. Yes, the information is for “official use only” and “protected” – only a few million DL records are hacked into nationally each year. And only a “few” bureaucrats are corrupt and sell or use the information that they can access for their own benefit or that of their associates.

About TPOL Nathan

Follower of Christ Jesus (christian), Pahasapan, Westerner, Lover of Liberty, Free-Market Anarchist, Engineer, Army Officer, Husband, Father, Historian, Writer.
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1 Response to Camel in the tent #1: Driver’s Licenses

  1. Pingback: Rational Review News Digest, 12/15/16 - Yahoo discloses new data breach affecting one billion accounts - Thomas L. Knapp -

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