Then What is a Driver’s License For?

Instapundit ask: Why have driver’s licenses at all?

Driver’s licenses began in America back in, IIRC, the 1840s when drivers of large cargo wagons in urban areas were licensed, supposedly to insure that they wouldn’t let the horses and the rig get out of control and plunge thorough crowded city streets. More likely, it was a tool to create a barrier of entry to protect established cartage companies against competition. The cry “it’s for safety” is a powerful economic tool of established concerns.

Supposedly, the government requires automobile drivers to have licenses to demonstrate that they have at least minimal driving skill and understanding of traffic laws. However, I’m not sure that is really the case anymore.

Take this recent story from here in Austin, Tx:

Travis County prosecutors have declined to criminally charge a 45-year-old woman who sped up as she tried to park her pickup, striking and killing 62-year-old Felipe Duran, who was strumming Christian songs on his guitar outside a market in February.
Instead, Juana Arrellano-Aviles, who was driving without a driver’s license or insurance, received three traffic citations.

She told police that she felt the truck move forward as she attempted to park. “At this time Juana realized she is getting close to the end of the space and where the man had his box of things,” the report says. “She stepped hard and the truck moved fast and she hit the man. Juana realized she had pressed the accelerator pedal.”
Initially, she told police that she might have been driving with both feet, but then said she drove with one.
The Austin Police Department does not inquire about immigration status as a matter of policy. Arellano-Aviles received Class C misdemeanor citations for reckless damage, failure to maintain financial responsibility and not having a driver’s license, police said. According to Austin Municipal Court documents, Arellano-Aviles has received and paid seven traffic citations since 2003, including five tickets for not having a license and one for “failure to maintain assured clear distance,” in which she paid a fine corresponding to a violation involving a collision. The most recent citation was issued in October.

Under Texas law, a person is criminally negligent when he or she “ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur” and that not perceiving that risk “constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise.”
Meyer said the statute means errors behind the wheel, even those resulting in death, aren’t necessarily crimes.

The death of Mr. Felipe Duran was almost certainly caused by the self-taught Ms. Arrellano-Aviles driving with her left foot resting on the brake and her right on accelerator. That is a dangerous practice precisely because it leads to stomping on the accelerator when the driver tries to break hard. Had Ms. Arrellano-Aviles been through license testing, they would not have allowed her to pass while driving with that unsafe habit and Mr. Duran’s death would have been prevented.

However, apparently under Texas law, the fact that you don’t have a valid license and have never had one is not in itself evidence of reckless behavior. If the point of the license isn’t to prevent errors like the one that killed Mr. Duran, that raises the question of whether having a license is really about safety. If it is irrelevant to legal, responsible driving that you have a license then a license itself must be irrelevant to safe driving.

The same could be said for having an uninspected vehicle. If we require inspections of vehicles in the name of safety, then why isn’t causing an accident while driving an uninspected vehicle automatically taken as negligence of some order?

I think we’ve had licensing for so long that we’ve essentially forgotten why we started it in the first place. A driver’s license has evolved into our primary form of ID and we never seem to use it anymore to demonstrate that we have the proven skill to direct a massive metal machine at high speeds through populated areas. We’ve reached the point where there really isn’t any practical or legal connection between having a driver’s license and being an acceptably safe driver. If there was some sort of connection, then causing a fatal accident while not having (or ever having had) a driver’s license would be considered prima facie evidence of being an irresponsible and dangerous driver. That would be doubly true if the cause of the accident was the use of a dangerous technique that license testing forbids.

I think it fair to say that today there is very little connection between safe driving and possession of a license. Getting a license has become more about ritual and revenue than safe driving. Certainly, a system of letting people drive as long as they were privately insured couldn’t be any worse. At least the insurance companies would have skin in the game.

[Note: The fact that Arrellano-Aviles is almost certainly an illegal immigrant isn’t really relevant to the point here. Unlicensed, uninsured and uninspected illegal immigrant drivers are a major problem in the Southwest but a lot of legal residents and natives drive around without those supposedly necessary documents as well. Illegal immigrant drivers are irrelevant to the question of whether government licenses really advance safety or not. At best, the fact that many who scream loudest about the need for the government to ensure safety are also often the quietest when it comes to the harm caused by illegal immigrant drivers suggest that licensing isn’t about safety after all.]

10 thoughts on “Then What is a Driver’s License For?”

  1. The license is obsolete with regard to illegal aliens. Read some of Victor Davis Hanson’s pieces about living near Fresno, CA.

    Now that I am 70, my license is only renewed for five years in CA.

    A few years ago, my license was not automatically renewed because a contractor who was driving a pickup truck I owned was rear ended by another driver. The other driver had insurance and fixed the truck. I later learned that my license was not renewed because I had not reported the accident to the state. What did they have to do with it ?


  2. What a no-brainer, a driver’s license is needed mainly to prove legal drinking age.

    In Indiana, I need one to buy liquor at age 58. Everyone now gets carded in Indiana. New law. One of the few stupid laws we have including no liquor sales on Sunday. Must the all those Charismatic Christian Baptists we have living here. Speaking in tongues in a house of worship doesn’t require liquor consumption, you know.

    I often tell those who complain: If you drink too much on Saturday and forget to buy enough to drink on Sunday you’re too damn drunk….and we all know that the rent is too damn high.

  3. I just sent a check for $25 to renew my Washington state driver’s license.

    Several observations: The form letter calls it a “license or ID card”. It is, almost certainly, the most used form of ID here, and, I am reasonably certain, in other states. In fact, Washington lets you buy an “enhanced” version, which has nothing to do with driving, but does make it easier to cross the Canadian border.

    Though I will turn 68 this August, I was able to renew for ten years, simply by sending them a check. The coupon said that by sending them a check I was promising that I can see, and that I did not take medicines that would interfere with driving, but did not require me to sign that promise. (For the record, I can see, and I do not take any medicines.)

    Washington state, until very recently, allowed people to get driver’s licenses without showing proof of citizenship. When that changed, the number of licenses issued dropped way down (by a third, or something like that). According to news reports, non-citizens were coming here just to get the licenses.

  4. I remember that Indiana law from when I lived there. People would be in a rush to stock up on Saturday. It had zero impact on alcohol consumed either in total, or on Sunday. It just created inconvenience.

  5. We’re talking Austin, Texas, here, where the cops can shoot Hispanics and Blacks with impunity.

  6. Anonymous,

    We’re talking Austin, Texas, here, where the cops can shoot Hispanics and Blacks with impunity.

    I’d like to say you were wrong but unfortunately Austin is a left blue blotch in a sea of right red and we suffer for it. We call it Berkley on the Colorado. The population of the city proper is dominated by state government workers and University of Texas professors, students and associated hanger’s on all who are far left, We’ve developed a big entertainment business and that has brought in the Lefties as well.

    The end result is a politically correct police force with low recruiting and training standards combined with rapidly churning priorities and directives based on impulsively following leftwing fads. We just imported a police chief from a failed California city and he spends so much time on PC crap that the cops stopped responding to minor burglary complaints until public outrage prompted a change. Morale in the police force disintegrated and we’ve had several dubious shootings all apparently caused by poor recruitment, training and leadership.

    It’s very sad to say but if your black and hispanic these days, your way, way more safe in the conservative, even ultra-conservative surrounding communities like Round Rock, Georgetown etc were the police forces have high recruiting and training standards as well as an old fashion, “we catch violent people not people using to much salt” policing mentality.

  7. Anonymous,

    We’re talking Austin, Texas, here, where the cops can shoot Hispanics and Blacks with impunity.

    You know, outside of Leftwing Austin, Texas is a safer place for poor Hispanics and Blacks that leftist dominated places like California, New York or gods-forbid Michigan. African-Americans in particular are less likely to be murdered by criminals or shot by police in Texas than any of those places.

    I do think that the lack of outrage over Felipe Duran’s death is linked to both his killer and himself being Hispanic. If Juana Arrellano-Aviles had been an upper-income white male driving on license expired by one day there would be howls of outrage from the Leftwing community that dominates Austin. However, since Juana Arrellano-Aviles is hispanic and almost certainly an illegal alien, our supposed moral superiors just let her skate to kill again.

    It is darkly humorous that Austin voted itself a “sanctuary” city that refuses to enforce or cooperate with any immigration enforcement whatsoever. We’ve become a safe place to negligent kill immigrants as long as you’re an illegal immigrant yourself. Our self-appointed betters are more concerned with proving their supposed superiority over the rest of us by letting a killer walk than they are in protecting the lives of the most poor and vulnerable.

    It is unfortunately a stark example of the way that Leftists dehumanize people. I don’t think the mention that that Duran played “Christian” music was a mere toss off. I think it was intended to diminish sympathy for him in the minds of the intensely religiously bigoted Leftwing community here where “Christian” is synonymous with evil. The paper didn’t want us to care about a poor, hardworking street performer because he was a Christian.

    Likewise, they don’t regard Arrellano-Aviles as a full equal who can be held to the same standards of ethical behavior and responsibility as a white person. Instead, she is just a childish inferior who can’t be held responsible for her actions.

  8. They decided back when that driving is a privilege; therefore, they can make you pay for said privilege, and the easiest way is to make you get a license.

    ‘Course, the head of the TSA advised us that flying is no longer just a travel option, that he considers is a ‘privilege’, therefore TSA ignoring your rights and molesting your kids is justifiable; I wonder if they’ll decide we need a license to be on an airplane? Something that acknowledges that we properly grovel before the federal employees involved and promise not to say anything hurtful while they’re feeling us up, perhaps…

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