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Just because it’s in your drivers’ ed handbook don’t make it so


the difference between owning a firearm and driving a car. One is a right, and one is a privilege.

I’m gonna disagree and say driving (i.e., traveling) is definitely a right (see here for the short version). It’s one of those rights (like abortion err privacy) that is not specifically enumerated in the constitution but exists nonetheless. But it, like any other right, is subject to reasonable regulation.

What say you?

26 Responses to “Just because it’s in your drivers’ ed handbook don’t make it so”

  1. Kevin Baker Says:

    Driving on public roads is a privilege. Travelling is a right. You can travel without driving. Jet Blue, Carnival Cruise Lines, Greyhound, Amtrak, sticking out your thumb, spending shoe leather, or on camelback, you have the inherent right to travel. Piloting 3500 lbs of steel and glass? That requires a license, whether that steel and glass is an SUV, a Boston Whaler or a Cessna. And if it requires a license, it’s not a right.

  2. SayUncle Says:

    And you have a right to arms, so long as it’s a flintlock rifle, eh?

  3. Ron W Says:


    I agree with what you said re: driving. It’s a licensed privilege to drive your car on public roads.

    Keeping and CARRYING weapons for self -defense is a RIGHT and specifically enumerated as such in Article I, Section 26 of the Declaration of Rights in the Tennessee Constitution. The writings of our founders clearly indicate that self-defense is a most basic right which is obviously implied in the 2nd Amendment and certainly included in the 9th Amendment of non-enumerated rights.

    “Gun control” laws should only specify where firearms cannot be used EXCEPT in lawful self defense or in denying the right to keep and/or bear for specified crimes determiend through due process of law.

  4. Robert Says:

    This separates the DNA of folks who make noises about being freedom loving conservatives and posers.

    Traveling- moving about out public roads, flying, sailing, in short- going where you want to go when you want to go…is NOT a priviledge. It’s a right. Period.

    Baker: Going to hang your hat on flying? Flying? Where you have to be searched, take off your shoes, risk secret lists, be disarmed, have a stooge dig through your undermawears and leave you a note? You are going to use flying as an example of a right to travel that is reasonably regulated?

    The state has far overstepped its bounds. How to coax it back into it’s constitutional limits may be beyond me, but there is no doubt it is out.

    Travelling is a right. You think the founders would have tried this nonsense with Frances Marion or Juan Seguin?

  5. Standard Mischief Says:

    Traveling around freely, owning property, and driving a car are all unenumerated rights. I see no problem restricting that right when someone is on probation for serious driving offenses (and if they are in jail, they can’t travel now, can they?)

    Whether or not you are trained, qualified, and have sufficient vision are questions best left to teh insurance companies. Not only do they have a direct financial stake in managing risk, they also have an incentive to service you promptly, (meaning, have you ever noticed that there are no clocks on the walls over at the Department of Motor Vehicles? lest you go over to the guys across the street.)

    The state of Virginia actually has the nerve to not give you a license number on your state mandated permission chit. No, in Virginia, it’s a “customer number”. What a joke.

  6. Kevin Baker Says:

    No, Uncle, the right to arms is enumerated.

    Self-defense is not (federally), but it remains a right, just like travel. Enumerating the right to arms protects the specific right of self-defense by prohibiting elimination of the right to arms. You can still defend yourself (somewhat) without weapons, but it becomes exceedingly difficult. You can still travel without being the person behind the wheel.

    The right to travel is not enumerated. Neither is a right to drive (or pilot an airplane.) I repeat: If it requires a license, it’s not a right – by definition.

    Robert: Flown General Aviation anytime recently? No search, and you get to keep your shoes on. Bear in mind, I’m not disagreeing with you in regard to the safety theater known as passenger and baggage screening, but traveling by air is still viable, if you can afford it. As I said, traveling is a right. DRIVING is not. Nor is piloting the plane.

  7. Xrlq Says:

    For any law students reading this thread, this is a good time to remind you that one of the most frequent and easily spotted “sucker answers” on the Multistate Bar Exam is any answer on a con law question that depends on a distinction between “privileges” and “rights.” Regardless of the topic, if an answer says Law X should be upheld because Conduct Y is “a privilege, not a right,” or struck down because Y is “a right, not a privilege,” the answer is wrong. No such distinction exists when it comes to government regulating private conduct. Some rights are considered “fundamental” and others not, but that only goes to the question of how heavily they may be regulated, not whether they can be at all. And they certainly give no support to Kevin’s theory that “if it requires a license, it’s not a right” – a theory which, if applied with any consistency, would ultimately “prove” that no rights exist at all.

    That said, let’s assume for grits and shins that there is a valid distinction between “privileges,” which government may regulate willy-nilly, and “rights,” which it may not license at all. Let’s assume further that traveling is a “right, not a privilege,” while driving is a “privilege, not a right.” The logical conclusion is that government may not impose any regulation on travel per se, and may regulate driving only to the extent that it can do so without unreasonably burdening one’s ability to travel. Does anyone seriously dispute that revoking someone’s driver license imposes a significant burden on his ability to travel? And if not, does it not follow that doing so arbitrarily would burden that right unreasonably? Before you answer, Kevin, consider that nearly all of the alternative methods of transportation you identified also require someone to be licensed. If government can arbitrarily take away my “privilege” to drive, it can do the same to the Greyhound driver or the JetBlue pilot, not to mention Amtrak, which it can (and probably should, but that’s another thread) shut down altogether. Not that I have a “right” to travel with Greyhound or JetBlue, anyway.

  8. _Jon Says:

    Up until I read the question, I did not consider driving a right, but upon seeing it as a modern form of ‘transportation’, I can see that it is.

    However – as with all rights – it is not unlimited.
    Just like speech in public and explosive ordinance, it can (and should) have some limits for the safety of the rest of society.

    Hmph. That’s something else – learnin’.

  9. bob Says:

    Using the public roads in the usual and customary fashion is a right. Why operating a car, as opposed to “controlling” a horse, is considered so dangerous and complicated that permission from the government to do so is necessary is a mystery to me.

    Try to imagine making a delivery of a couple of thousand pounds of goods via horse drawn wagon in the middle of downtown (insert favorite city). Not only would this be quite dangerous it is probably “illegal” in just about any city you care to name. But I doubt anybody is ready to claim that doing so was not a right when the government was instituted — and as such is still one today. Now we have people “conditioned” to think that doing the same with a motor driven truck, which is considerably safer than the horse drawn wagon, requires government involvement.

    A right to travel is completely meaningless if it does not refer to the use of the “public right of way”. Noone has a “right” to use “Jet Blue, Carnival Cruise Lines, Greyhound, Amtrak” (well, maybe Amtrak); these are all private companies that are free to refuse service for just about any reason (aside from such reasons as the government has seen fit to override).

    Government only got away with foisting this “licensing” crap on us because cars were used by only a small part of the populace at the start of automobile usage. The idea that cars are more dangerous than horses is, IMHO, just poor thinking. With no numbers to back it up, I feel quite safe making the following assertion: if horses were the common mode of transport, the rate of injuries and death would be higher than we experience with cars.

  10. Snowflakes in Hell » Should it Be a Priviledge to Drive? Says:

    […] said it is, Uncle disagrees.   I had thought I had posted on this in the past, but I think I meant to and never did.  I […]

  11. Kevin Baker Says:

    Ah, I see, there’s a misunderstanding.

    Uncle is talking about what ought to be a right. I’m talking about what is treated as a right.

    I think I’ve been here before, with at least six posts and a hundred-thousand words on the topic of “What is a Right?”

  12. Xrlq Says:

    Fair enough, but my earlier point stands: to the extent one defines “right” so narrowly as to preclude any form of licensing, we’ve defined the concept out of existence.

  13. straightarrow Says:

    I’m not even going to read all the comments. Driving on public roads is a RIGHT! Driving on private roads is a privilege. If someone is not smart enough to know why, they are too damn dumb to argue with anyway.

  14. Kevin Baker Says:

    …to the extent one defines right so narrowly as to preclude any form of licensing, weve defined the concept out of existence.

    So… we can license self-defense?

  15. Manish Says:

    I would split the difference and say that driving is a ‘responsibility’. Your ability to drive can be taken away from you if you show that you can’t undertake it in a manner that doesn’t endanger the other users of the road. If you are too young, you can’t drive. If you are too old, you need to be licensed yearly to show that you still have your faculties to do so properly.

    So this all suggests that I have a right to ride my bike in the same public road right?

  16. Xrlq Says:

    Why not? It would be a really stupid thing to do, of course, but that’s irrelevant when discussing what government can do rather than what it should. Even free speech is licensed under some circumstances. Try holding a rally or operating a radio station without a permit or license. That should be OK, since freedom of expression is a right, right? Alternatively, if freedom of assembly and political speech on the radio are not rights, let some city or the FCC start issuing or denying permits on a blatantly political basis, which they could indeed do if no constitutional rights were at stake.

  17. SayUncle Says:

    So this all suggests that I have a right to ride my bike in the same public road right?

    Heh. No one said you didn’t.

  18. Griff Says:

    So we can license self-defense?

    Ummmmmmmm, isn’t that what a CCW permit is? A license to practice effective self defense outside of one’s home?

  19. Kevin Baker Says:

    Ummmmmmmm, isnt that what a CCW permit is?

    Only in a very narrow sense. I’m talking about the larger. For example, prove you’ve passed a government-certified class on “reasonable use of force” and pay $250 for a “self-defense” license before you can legitimately claim self-defense in a courtroom even if all you do is punch the assailant in the face.

  20. Kevin Baker Says:

    Oh, and what you’re being licensed for with a CCW isn’t actually self-defense. It’s the ability to carry concealed. In several jurisdictions (AZ and VA, for example) OPEN carry is still (technically) legal.

  21. Phelps Says:

    Saying that travelling is a right but driving isnt is like saying that we have freedom of the press but you have to buy all your ink from the state.

    And yes, driving is a right.

  22. Robert Says:

    If during the pre-1800 negotiations to write and adopt the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, someone had INSISTED that horses have plates, be insured, riders be state-trained and carry a riding permit, their eyesight checked, that no one under the age of 16 was going to be allowed to operate one, that every equine be taxed, inspected, registered yearly, plus each horse (along with saddle and tack) had to meet emissions and safety standards or they would NOT be allowed to operate on public roads on pain of fine and imprisonment…(and carridges and wagons as well, only moreso)…all paid for with the lisense and registration fees and a tax on oats and hay…..

    The revolution would have fired up again until the gene pool was a little cleaner.

  23. CarlS Says:

    The right of a citizen to travel upon the public highways and to transport his property thereon in the ordinary course of life and business is a common right which he has under his right to enjoy life and liberty…. It includes the right in so doing to use the ordinary and usual conveyances of the day; and under existing modes of travel includes the right to drive a horse-drawn carriage or wagon thereon, or to operate an automobile thereon for the usual and ordinary purposes of life and business. It is not a mere privilge, like the privilege of moving a house in the street, operating a business stand in the street, or transporting persons or property for hire along the street, which the city may permit or prohibit at will.
    Thompson v. Smith, 154 S.E. 579, 1929

    “The claim and exercise of a Constitutional right cannot be converted into a crime.” Miller v. U.S., F.2d 486, 489.

  24. SayUncle » Quote of the day Says:

    […] comments on whether or not driving is a right, Phelps says: Saying that travelling is a right but driving isnt is like saying that we have […]

  25. cube Says:

    well when the gov owns the paper or pavement, it kinda is a priviage.

  26. joe hale Says:

    The government doesn’t own the pavemnet ” we the people do!” I hope you will look at my answer in the right to travel section of this site as it says alot.There is nothing more important than our right to travel ( liberty) except our right to live ( life). We cannot have one without the other and we cannot truly be happy unless we are free to do both( pursuit of happiness).