By on July 27, 2011


Do we really need one?

Opinions vary widely. In recent years, there have been two legislative efforts to convert the ubiquitous state driver license into a national ID card, making it the essential “show us your papers” document in order to navigate in, around, and through our society.

At the other end of the spectrum, a current movement to do away with the driver license altogether may seem impractical, but it is gathering momentum in regions around the U.S.

Which should it be – a federally-mandated document that uniquely identifies its holder and is necessary to provide the right to drive, to fly, and to participate in various governmental programs, or an extraneous card that serves no useful purpose in a society where individuals have the right to travel without restrictions?

Let’s examine these two diametrically opposed positions:

Driver License as National ID

The Real ID Act of 2005 was enacted, but has not gotten off the ground yet. Real ID is premised on a national ID system based on the driver license. One significant administrative problem with this is that the states, not the federal government, control the requirements of driver licenses, and no two state licenses are exactly the same.

Real ID puts forth requirements so that the various state driver licenses would be accepted by the federal government in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security.

In March 2007, the government announced that the requirements of Real ID wouldn’t be enacted until 2009, supposedly giving the federal and state governments time to implement a workable system. In early 2008, the implementation deadline was further extended to 2011.

In the meantime, U.S. Senate Bill S.1261 was introduced and subsequently reported by committee in July 2009. Also known as Pass ID, S.1261 was claimed by supporters to solve some of the inherent problems of Real ID. Pass ID has been on the Senate’s calendar of business since December 2009, but has not been brought up for vote. In essence, it has been all but abandoned.

Real ID is a time-delayed national ID law hanging over our heads. Somewhat ominously, it states that after 2011, “a Federal agency may not accept, for any official purpose, a driver’s license or identification card issued by a state to any person unless the state is meeting the [Real ID] requirements.”

States can keep issuing their unique driver licenses, but unless the requirements of Real ID are met, those driver licenses will not be accepted as federal identification. It does not seem likely that all — if any — states will be in compliance by 2011. What a mess!

Ironically, personal security under Real ID is a significant concern. To quote from a January 14, 2008 NMA Blog article, “The manner in which the driver license is carried and used makes it highly susceptible to theft and physical loss. Under the ‘one national ID number’ concept, the compromise of that number would expose the victim to financial ruin, malicious acts, and the exposure of highly personal information. Having a single national ID card/number is an invitation to fraud, theft and the loss of personal security and individual privacy.”

From the same NMA article, “Such a [Real ID] system will not deter terrorists and will not make our society safer, but will make our society less free and more authoritarian.”

As the Real ID law is presently configured, people born on or after December 1, 1964, will be required to obtain national ID by December 1, 2014. Those born before that 1964 date will have until December 1, 2017 to obtain their Real ID.

Real ID should be repealed, and the notion dismissed that the driver license be used as a national ID card.

Eliminate the Driver License

Georgia State Representative Bobby Franklin (R-Marietta) introduced House Bill 875 in November 2009. The first two sentences of that proposed legislation, better known as the “Right to Travel Act,” summarize what the bill is about: “Free people have a common law and constitutional right to travel on the roads and highways that are provided by their government for that purpose. Licensing of drivers cannot be required of free people because taking on the restrictions of a license requires the surrender of an inalienable right.”

Meanwhile, other groups around the country are pushing to introduce similar bills to their state legislatures in order to question the constitutionality of certain laws related to driver licenses.

The NMA View

Much of the anger and concern surrounding this issue is based on the federal government’s attempt to leverage the driver license into a national ID card. The feds are trying to use the driver license as a club to enforce government sanctions, or to use it as a means to circumvent basic rights, such as implied consent that a citizen can be forced to give evidence against him or herself.

The basic (and only legitimate) purpose of the driver license is to certify that the owner of that license has proven that he/she is capable of operating a motor vehicle on public roads in a safe and responsible manner. The license should not be withheld for any reason other than the fact that the applicant could not pass a fair and objective driving test.

The driver license can be taken away if the holder drives in such a way as to endanger others, but it should not be confiscated for any other reason, and it should not be demanded as a formal means of personal identification.

If shrewder heads prevail in our ruling class, they will understand that defusing the anti-driver license movement will require the federal and state governments to stop using the driver license for purposes other than basic certification of a driver’s competence.

[This piece appears at the National Motorist's Association blog]

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36 Comments on “The Driver License: Is It Necessary?...”


  • avatar
    GS650G

    well forget getting rid of licenses. Too much control with them. OTOH a federal license for driving along with other things (like fire arms ownership) would allow certain benefits. And certain problems too.

    There are plenty of websites that already debate government control theories, let’s not add another one to the list.

  • avatar
    aristurtle

    If you don’t want your driver’s license to be used as the de facto form of government-issued identification, you’ll need to come up with a different one, and then we’ll all need to jump through an additional hoop to get ahold of it as well. It’s not like all of a sudden we, as a society, will never need anyone to positively identify themselves. I kind of like the fact that, e.g. my bank teller will check a photo ID before handing over a cashiers’ check for the contents of my account. You probably do too. I can think of plenty of situations where a reliable ID is a requirement without any government involvement beyond issuing the thing.

    (And a state getting rid of that state’s drivers licenses is a terrible idea. What are you going to do when you need to drive to a neighboring state for whatever reason? They still require licensing.)

    • 0 avatar
      Pistolero

      You can’t show ID to a website, yet we can still trust that there is a better system in place keeping transactions secure, and most online banking/brokerages just use an SSN anyway. Also think broadly about how companies perform all their transactions without a D/L. There are much better alternatives to ID than 1 number where if anyone gets a hold of can assume your identity.

      The point is that a D/L has no real benefit regarding driving, and is unnecessary for other forms of ID.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      When you open a bank account, the teller could give you an ID to use for withdrawals. All the benefits of the current “system”, plus privacy as well, since not every bank would necessarily require an ID that could be tied to a specific person.

      Of course, if there was a demand, banks would use third party issued ID’s as well, with varying degrees of linkability to a physical person. That way everyone would have the opportunity to make their own privacy/convenience tradeoff, instead of having one rammed down their throats by someone who assuredly does not have their best interests in mind.

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        And when you apply for a loan, what ID would you use then? When you apply for a job? When you rent out an apartment to someone, and you need their real name so you can run a background check what are you supposed to ask for? When you’re trying to hire a nanny? When a customer wants to pay you with a check?

        The driver’s license began being used as a catch-all identification card because there was a reasonably high bar to getting one (in terms of information that you needed to provide, not in terms of the test you take) and they were (and are) reasonably hard to counterfeit.

        Also, if you think your bank (or an outfit like Experian, who would probably be handling identification in your anarchocapitalist utopia) has your best interests in mind, you’re delusional.

        Sidenote: Should a photo ID be required in order to vote? I wonder what the overlap is with the people who say “of course it should be!” and the people who say that drivers’ licenses are unnecessary and tyrannical.

  • avatar
    Toad

    If a reputable company is willing to provide liability insurance to a driver, and that driver can demonstrate that they are safe enough to be insurable, maybe that should be enough. Have the liability insurance tied to the driver, not the car.

    As it is virtually anybody who can fog a mirror can currently get a drivers license; the system we have now does not begin to ensure competence. Unlike the government, a private insurance company would have much more interest in ensuring a driver is safe since their money would be on the line.

    A nationally accepted ID, or lack thereof, should be a separate debate.

    • 0 avatar
      Amendment X

      Yep, that’s what I was thinking too. Just mandate that every user of state property via motorized vehicle must carry liability insurance. The only motor vehicle law a person could possibly violate is not carrying insurance (which would carry a fine so large as to deter the act altogether).

      Tie the driver to the market. If a driver gets cited for speeding, his insurance company will receive notice and be free to raise rates (already happens now but would likely be more prevalent). If driver gets a DUI, same.

      Allow drivers to “graduate” to lower risk pools by taking additional driving classes. You’d get a more safety-conscious driving public and also lower insurance rates.

      Take it a step further and really go crazy with it. Allow each insurance company to dictate the maximum speed limit for any particular highway based on their own crash/safety data. Have the “top 3″ insurance companies’ speed limits posted instead of the state’s speed limit.

      So many possibilities on the free market, eh?

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Just mandate that every user of state property via motorized vehicle must carry liability insurance.

        Virtually every state already requires this. (And since you’re a fan of the 10th Amendment, then you should know that the feds don’t get involved in requiring that the states have such policies.)

        If a driver gets cited for speeding, his insurance company will receive notice and be free to raise rates (already happens now but would likely be more prevalent). If driver gets a DUI, same.

        How could it be “more prevalent”? Car insurers routinely check driving records when issuing or renewing policies.

        Allow drivers to “graduate” to lower risk pools by taking additional driving classes.

        Studies consistently show that driver training doesn’t reduce crash rates. If insurers want to do this, they can, but they’d be fools to lower your premium when there is no support for the position that the course reduces risk.

        Allow each insurance company to dictate the maximum speed limit for any particular highway based on their own crash/safety data. Have the “top 3″ insurance companies’ speed limits posted instead of the state’s speed limit.

        OK, now I know that you’re joking. You can’t possibly be serious.

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        Studies consistently show that driver training doesn’t reduce crash rates. If insurers want to do this, they can, but they’d be fools to lower your premium when there is no support for the position that the course reduces risk.

        Really? I haven’t looked at many statistics for car drivers, but in the motorcycling world, a rider who has taken the MSF’s rider course is strongly correlated with a lower accident rate.

  • avatar
    Pistolero

    From a logical perspective: What is the value of a test that everyone can pass?

    Then empirically, the driver license scheme has no correlation to reducing traffic fatalities or accidents.

    Eliminate it.

    • 0 avatar
      Amendment X

      In a “democratic” society, we need to set the bar so low as to allow everyone over it.

    • 0 avatar
      Sinistermisterman

      Your logic is spot on, however my answer would be to make the test harder – much harder. I agree with the ‘freedom to travel’ theory, but should that be at the expense of safety to everyone else? No. Freedom does not mean freedom to endanger other peoples lives.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        The problem is, where to draw the line between safety of others, and freedom to travel. As long as the line is drawn at a very local level, say county by county, you’ll get to observe enough different approaches to learn something over time. Of course, counties can very well engage in reciprocity agreements with those they deem close enough to themselves, or, for example require higher insurance retainers to allow less stringently tested drivers on their roads.

        The important point to note is, that all possibility of improvement ends once alternatives are no longer realistically available for testing, i.e. Federal ‘minimum’ (or maximum) standards.

      • 0 avatar
        Loser

        “Freedom does not mean freedom to endanger other peoples lives”.

        Just what I was thinking. Like you, I want to see it made harder to get a license. Right now people learn how to pass a test instead of learning how to drive.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      That’s easy, the value of the test (and the other requirements for a driver’s license, of which a test is usually just one) is to require that everyone have a certain minimal skillset before driving on public roads.

      Also, “empirically” does not mean what you think it means. If you want to show “empirically” that licensing has no correlation to reducing traffic accidents, you need to present data to that effect.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        If you want to show “empirically” that licensing has no correlation to reducing traffic accidents, you need to present data to that effect.

        The data that is available would contradict his point. The data that does exist suggests that unlicensed drivers crash and are involved in fatal accidents at higher rates than are licensed drivers.

      • 0 avatar
        Pistolero

        Wrong, the null assumption is that the license has no correlation to reducing traffic losses. The alternative hypothesis bears the burden of proof. This is an empirical question.

        Also you are missing the point of a skillset test. The current license scheme teaches skills on par with whistling while driving or stretching before taking the wheel- minimal skills with no evidence of reducing traffic losses.

        PCH – I guarantee that controlling for income/credit score would render the driver license variable insignificant.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Wrong, the null assumption is that the license has no correlation to reducing traffic losses. The alternative hypothesis bears the burden of proof. This is an empirical question.

        The question has been asked and answered. The results: unlicensed drivers do crash and do kill/die at higher rates than do licensed drivers.

      • 0 avatar
        Jimal

        Driver’s education in this country is mainly focused on teaching the rules of the road, what the various signs mean, and what will happen to you (particularly if you’re under a certain age) if you break any of the rules. A license these days is little more than a piece of paper or plastic that signifies that you understand and agree to abide by the driving laws of the state which issued the license.

        The “road skills” training required to get a license is laughable. It has been a while, but I read one of those studies that concluded that comprehensive driver skills training has no bearing on accident rates and my conclusion is that the study was fundamentally flawed. I’ve experienced comprehensive behind-the-wheel driver training, both as a student and as an instructor. I believe it improves your odds, even if only slightly, from pure dumb luck. Probably more than that.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        I’ve experienced comprehensive behind-the-wheel driver training, both as a student and as an instructor. I believe it improves your odds, even if only slightly, from pure dumb luck.

        I’ve posted here on this subject in the past. Driver training is ineffective for doing much of anything beyond imparting basic skills onto those who don’t have them, i.e. teaching those who don’t know how to steer to point the car in the right direction. Advanced training has no or negative effects, because it increases confidence too much.

        Accidents are not caused by a lack of talent. Enthusiasts want to believe this, but that is pretty much disproven by the research on this subject. Making it harder to get a license won’t accomplish anything, but the inability to get or keep a license now is quite telling — someone who can’t get his act together enough to do something as simple as that is going to be a problem.

  • avatar
    EEGeek

    People not from Georgia should know that Bobby Franklin (who died yesterday) was considered a real nut job in the GA legislature. Using him as an example of a trend to eliminate driver’s licenses cannot be taken seriously.

  • avatar
    WaftableTorque

    I used to have several deadbeat coworkers in their 30′s who never bothered to get their drivers license in our car-centric city. But they had no qualms about mooching a ride to get home.

    It’s one thing to save on the costs of transportation. Its another thing to be an adult dependent the rest of your life and brag how you don’t need a car. I despise these people and say no if they ask.

  • avatar
    tallnikita

    Will make no difference, people either learn how to drive, or they drive an SUV/Minivan, with GPS navigation and TV’s, of course.

  • avatar

    You have a right t otravel on the roads already, just start walking, or buy a horse. The goverment is not obligated to let you drive a car just because you want to get there faster.

    • 0 avatar
      GS650G

      Or ride a bicycle, no insurance, license, registration, or “privilege” for that.
      You do have to obey traffic laws, especially if you want to stay alive. Citations can be issued but do not count against a driving record since you are not operating a motorized vehicle. They would be civil infractions.
      Just let them implant chips in our forearms and get it over with.

    • 0 avatar
      outback_ute

      To demonstrate how ridiculous it is, we can take it further, why not eliminate pilots licenses, after all there is the right to travel you know. If you can afford a 747, go right ahead…

      How many people would balk at that one?

      • 0 avatar
        Toad

        Nobody would insure that pilot, so he could not fly. Problem solved.

      • 0 avatar
        GS650G

        Airplanes fly over property (like yours) so there is a real need to make sure the person operating it can do so properly.

        John Travolta owns several planes, including a 747, so there is precedence for this.

        Commercial pilots have passengers and cargo so they need to be somewhat qualified and certified for flying.

        But the certification requirements for driving a car is silly and simple, dumbed down to a point where it’s clear the only reason a driving license exists is so the state can control the driver.

        It can be taken away, they can find you to fine you, it serves as a real handle tool for identity, and starts a history on who you are in the databases.

        Those who live in cities with buses and trains could live life without one, I knew an 80 year old woman who did just that.

  • avatar
    jeffzekas

    Get rid of the driver’s license, and ten million illegal aliens will thank you… not to mention all the under-age kids who want to buy booze!

  • avatar
    phargophil

    Perhaps it’s just my age showing, but when I was in Driver’s Ed it was pounded into us that driving is a priviledge, not a right as the Georgia congressman seems to think. I fully believe it’s a priviledge because one should earn priviledges by proving eligibility, in this case proving minimum ability to drive and not be an immediate danger on the roads. Hence, license tests.

    If it is accepted that driving is a priviledge, then if testing is adequate, it should also be accepted that all people who are citizens of the US are not necessarily competent to have a drivers license, and may not be desirous of one. Therefore, to have a readily accepted form of national ID it should be something else.

    If a national ID requirement is instituted, all citizens will be required to have one, whether they drive or not.

    A requirement for all citizens is simply that, a requirement. There is no requirement that one must be licensed to drive. Therefore, in my opinion, if we must have a national ID it should be issued federally as is a social security number. Let the states continue to regulate their driving requirements since they are most familiar with the physical and environmental operating conditions within their borders. Two separate documents for two separate governing bodies for two different purposes.

    • 0 avatar
      Dynamic88

      Just because something was pounded into you doesn’t make it true. One of my uncles used to insist that criminals had no rights, and this was so because that’s what his father had always told him. Gramps was not a lawyer, so I also wondered why this uncle took repetition to be the equivalent of truth.

      If driving were a privilege then a license could be granted or denied arbitrarily and capriciously. In truth it is denied only if you can’t pass the eye exam, the rules exam, or the road test.

      Driving is a right, but like all rights, it has limitations. You’re right to free speech has limits, even your right to life has limits.

  • avatar
    nikita

    There are requirements for a State-issued driver license that have crept into the Federal Aviation Regulations, adding to the confusion of what is State and Federal power on this issue. Since a pilot certificate does not contain a photograph, use requires Government-issued picture ID. Also an FAA Medical is not required in certain limited cases by the FAA and a State-issued driver license is used as proof that you are healthy enough, can see well enough, etc. to operate a potentially dangerous machine in public.

  • avatar
    joe_thousandaire

    We need a National Citizenship card. The purpose of which would be first and foremost to prove you are a legal U.S. citizen (some states give driver’s licenses to illegals). Beyond proving citizenship the card could allow for ‘endorsements’ driving would be one of them, along with no-wait period on firearm purchases, conceal and carry, travel to Mexico and Canada and no-scan airport check-in. Certain criteria and fee’s could would apply to obtain each endorsement. Essentially it would be a card proving that you are not crazy, here illegally or a terrorist. Too many of our rights are diminished somehow or removed outright because of the 1%-ers out there, the rest of us should have a chance to prove we are the ‘good-guys’.

  • avatar
    zerofoo

    The article should be titled: “Do we need a way to somehow verify that drivers are trained and qualified to operate the two-ton killing machines they drive”?

    Answer: A resounding YES!

    Do we really need a national ID card system, that will be forged, faked, and hacked into anyway?

    Answer: A resounding NO.

    -ted

    • 0 avatar
      Robstar

      We have a federal ID system. It’s called a “passport”. Newer ones have magnetic stripes that allow programming. It should be trivial to encode FOID status, Drivers License info, etc onto it.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I have the easy solution: Tattoo a UPC with your SSAN right on your arm.

    Germany did something along those lines once, and many are still alive with that unique I.D. Saves a lot of plastic.

    P.S: Microchips like dogs and cats get. Easy, and no ink.


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