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In which I, a self-professed small l libertarian, say there ought to be a law

The Mrs. and I were driving down the road yesterday when I relayed to her the tale (from earlier in the day) where I almost saw an auto accident. Some old dude (driving a Buick, naturally) pulled right out it front of a big Ford F 250. The guy in the Ford had to lock his car up to avoid plowing the old fart. He locked it up so bad, his truck was fishtailing two lanes.

The Mrs. says: I think when you reach a certain age, you should have to retake the road portion of the driver’s license test every year.

I reply with: Well, I think everyone should be required to retake the test periodically, like every three or five years. It’s not just old farts that can’t drive.

Junior, noting the street lights were on, said: Light.

I continued: But the whole driver’s license system can’t be about safety. It’s about revenue or else they’d take the sane step of requiring periodic road-testing of all drivers.

The wife concurred that it would probably cost a lot to re-test and agreed with my assessment. So, thoughts? Is the driver’s license thing about revenue or safety? And there should be a law requiring periodic re-testing of drivers?

29 Responses to “In which I, a self-professed small l libertarian, say there ought to be a law

  1. robert Says:

    Our municipal court takes in 8 million a year…in a county of 180,000. The police recently have doubled their ticket-writing. There had been no corresponding increase in accidents. The police and muni courts have become a revenue source for the city govt.

    Just recently one of the ex-soviet republics disbanded their traffic police….with no increase in traffic accidents.

    The War on Drugs? Safety…or a jobs program for Law Enforcement?

    Policing isn’t “about” public safety anymore. It’s about revenue enhancement and empire building.

    IMPO. All I know is what I have read in the newspapers or learned from the police.

  2. tgirsch Says:

    Hey, wait a minute! I drive a Buick! In fact, all three cars I’ve ever owned have been Buicks. I always joke that there are three kinds of people who drive Buicks: old people, black people, and me.

  3. tgirsch Says:

    I agree about periodic re-testing, but I don’t think the reason there isn’t has anything to do with revenue or safety: it has to do with the fact that the idea would be immensely unpopular. Man, just imagine the shitstorm somebody would raise if they actually failed their re-test.

    The other problem is that our economy is just to automobile-centric. You take away somebody’s license (even if they deserve to have it taken away) and in most cases you’ve just taken away their livelihood, their ability to make a living, and (as many will perceive it) their very freedom.

    Nope, it would never, ever fly, no matter how good an idea it is.

  4. robert Says:

    I live in wild and free yee-haw Texas, where men are men and would NEVER put up with a nanny state namby-pamby bunch of laws…

    BUT. To legally drive down the street I have to have:

    1. A metal license tag on the front.

    2. A metal License tag on the rear, lit

    3. A yearly state inspection sticker on the windshield.

    4. A yearly registration sticker on the windshield.

    5. Registration papers.

    6. Proof of insurance.

    7. Drivers license.

    Don’t forget to be buckled in and wear corrective lenses while paying half the price of gas in taxes.

    (Don’t get me started on red-light cams)

    Wonder what Frances Marion or Davy Crockett would say if you tried to get them to do ANY of the above mentioned requirements before they could ride a horse or drive a wagon? Think they would swing a bowie or tomahawk at you? Think they would show up unarmed in Municipal court and sit meekly while awaiting a chance to pay their mandatory fine?

    Additionally: I just love it when so-called small-government conservatives instantly remind you that “driving is a PRIVILEGE….NOT a RIGHT.”

    Bullshit. Liberty should include the liberty to come and go on the public roads.

    Old people….any people…ought to be able to drive wherever and whenever they want in whatever they want to drive, with NO state involvement.

    IMPO, of course. You may prefer to live in a slave state like we do now. If so, you are going to LOVE what’s coming.

  5. Standard Mischief Says:

    Wait, registration, licensing, fees and a huge bureaucratic overlordship doesn’t stop car use in crime and tragic accidents? Damn! 😉

    The reason it is so is because old people vote.

  6. SayUncle Says:


    Well, you are older than me.

  7. Jed Says:

    I’m all for periodic retesting. I wrote about this a few years ago and laid out the legal justification.

    I think this would be an excellent example of the government doing what it was designed to do — balance the liberty interest of the drivers with the potential harm to the public, then use the state’s regulatory powers to fix the problem.

  8. tgirsch Says:


    “slave state?” Ha! You libertarian types really crack me up. Keep on eating those hyperbol-O’s for breakfast. 🙂

  9. tgirsch Says:

    And of course, my Buick at least has a 250-hp supercharged V-6, so it can go really fast as long as I don’t have to, oh, turn or anything. I nickname it the 6000 SUX. Bonus points for why.

  10. anonymous Says:

    Get rid of licensing and all traffic laws. Let Darwin sort things out in sort order.

  11. bob r Says:

    I am (partly) in agreement with Robert (above): Using the public roads in the customary fashion is not a privilege, it is a right. Prior to the automobile liberty did include the liberty to come and go on the public roads without interference from the thugs in government. I happen to think that taxes on gas are a fairly good way to pay for roads; the roads _must_ be paid for in some fashion and the use of gasoline seems to correlate pretty strongly with use of the road.

    Re: licenses. A license is “permission to do that which is otherwise unlawful”. How to solve the problem of incompetent drivers without “licenses”? How about testing with the issuance of the “certificate of competency”. A person using the road should be presumed competent unless he demonstrates otherwise. Penalties accessed for improper use of the road could be reduced for those who have a “certificate” or maybe if a person displays incompetence he could be prohibited from using the road until a certificate is earned (re-earned if he had one previously) with correspondingly high fines if the (temporary) prohibition is ignored. Such prohibitions would be particular to those who display incompetence and NOT blanket prohibitions place on all people in general.

    And, yes, I think traffic rules (e.g., speed limits, stop signs, etc) are compatible with a “presumption of competency” and liberty to use the public roads in the customary fashion.

  12. Standard Mischief Says:

    tgirsch Says: I nickname it the 6000 SUX. Bonus points for why.

    I’ll guess. Is it because it has reclining leather seats, and that goes really fast, and that it gets really shitty gas mileage?

  13. FishOrMan Says:

    How about limiting the retesting to those who actually commit a violation which endangers other citizens lives? (Not the nanny-state crap violations like seat-belts. Real violations). Instead of just using it as a way to generate revenue, (which is really ALL it’s about).

    Until the person makes a violation which actually endangers someone’s life, (other then their own), there should be no chains put around anyone’s neck. Drivers are free to do as they please until they have endangered another. Then and only then should there be penalties assessed.

    Freedom does include the right to travel. Supremes made that ruling long ago. Shapiro v. Thompson : 394 US 618 (1969) Determining what form you are allowed to peacefully travel is an infringement on that right. Charging a fee to exercise a right, (whether through a license, permit, or permission), is also unconstitutional. Mudook v. Penn. : 319 US 105 (1943)

    Funny how close this matches the government usurping on the right to bear arms. If you agree with them on traveling, you must also agree with them on gun control???

    They are called “prior restraint” laws and I do not support them in any form. For a time the Courts didn’t either. However, goodluck in getting the current court system to acknowledge any limits on the power of government.

  14. Lyle Says:

    I once called the cop shop in response to a driver that was weaving radically, and even driving in the on-coming lane for up to a mile at a time at night. The car was going from one shoulder to the other. It had to be a drunk driver, and I didn’t want this loser to kill someone else.
    (No one has mentioned drunk driving here yet)
    I followed long enough for a cop to intercept and stop the car. They asked me to hang around to make a statement if necessary. The cop came to me after speaking with the driver and said it was “just” an old lady! No ticket, no nothing. Just a “sorry to bother you mam.”
    Question: Is not the erratic driving the reason drunk drivers are restricted from driving, and isn’t the actual, specific reason for the erratic driving rather irrelevant, since the danger is the same regardless of the chemistry involved?

    As for the proper libertarian response to roads and motor vehicles; It’s all a huge, multi trillion dollar government program, and always has been. Whaderyagonnado?
    Me? I just want my flying car and have every driver 100% responsible for any property damage and / or injury resulting from his operation of said flying car, and leave the safety issues between the manufacturers, buyers, and their insurance companies. Government otherwise out of the equation. Pipe dream? Yup, so sue me.

  15. Lyle Says:

    Oh, and if you take away someone’s license, they’ll usually keep driving anyway. Your chances of being pulled over are far less than once per year in my experience, and I, uh, drive fast. Maybe even very fast.
    I say the simple answer to unsafe drivers is to fully privatize driver education. My public school driver’s ed was a complete farce. Just a formality, really. Now we all know that parents want their kids to stay alive (those of you who are not parents have no idea). A really good driving school, with a proven track record of students that stay out of trouble on the roadways, would be well worth it to most parents. Insurance companys could be enticed into giving special low rates for graduates of such a school, too. Yes they could.
    There, you see? There’s a free market solution to virtually anything.
    Now quit arguing and go out and start a really good driving school – make that deal with your favorite insurance company. I’ll sign my kids up.

  16. Jed Says:

    Freedom does include the right to travel. Supremes made that ruling long ago.


    Determining what form you are allowed to peacefully travel is an infringement on that right.

    Maybe, but not an unconstitutional infringement.

    Charging a fee to exercise a right, (whether through a license, permit, or permission), is also unconstitutional.

    True, but that’s irrelevant to the present argument. The government is not charging a fee to exercise your right to travel — they’re charging a fee to exercise the privilege of operating a motor vehicle. If you choose to walk, ride a bike, or ride a horse, you won’t be charged a fee to cross state lines, etc.

    The “right to drive” argument is tried fairly often, and shot down every time. The best response I’ve seen comes from the RI Supreme Court:

    The plaintiff’s argument that the right to operate a motor vehicle is fundamental because of its relation to the fundamental right of interstate travel is utterly frivolous. The plaintiff is not being prevented from traveling interstate by public transportation, by common carrier, or in a motor vehicle driven by someone with a license to drive it. What is at issue here is not his right to travel interstate, but his right to operate a motor vehicle on the public highways, and we have no hesitation in holding that this is not a fundamental right.

  17. Stormy Dragon Says:

    You don’t need a law in this case, you just need to get rid of the law that prevents auto insurance companies from pricing based on age or disability.

  18. #9 Says:

    How often are you supposed to get your eyes checked? Do you think most people do? This system is about revenue not safety.

    I agree that everyone should be retested every three years. Do you think the average person in Tennessee would pass the written exam in the drivers test if they took the test today?

  19. My Quiet Life » i want my DMV Says:

    […] Uncle thinks there ought to be a law. Amanda and I mirrored their conversation almost exactly last week, when we nearly died in gruesome fashion of some sort at the hands of a granny behind the wheel of a buick. I proposed, half-jokingly, that once you reach a certain age, the re-testing frequency should increase, but that there should be some discrimination based on some criteria that would not require the same verification of a fit and healthy 65-year old that it did of an ailing granny of the same age with osteoporosis and near-legal-blindness — after all, the point is to weed out people incapable of driving, not just old people. […]

  20. FishOrMan Says:

    “…they’re charging a fee to exercise the privilege of operating a motor vehicle…”

    Actually, you will never hear the government’s lawyers say this. In court the claim will always be the “fee” is for the testing to insure the “safety”…

    That’s how they get around charging a fee on a right. When it is put into the safety aspect, (which is what government’s job has become… to keep us safe), there are no limits on the laws they can pass… Constitution be dammed.

    “Maybe, but not an unconstitutional infringement.”

    (Besides that I don’t agree), this statement makes no sense. If it is an infringement on a right it is unconstitutional. The second amendment spelled out how an infringement on a right were suppose to be handled.

    Sigh… Sometimes I wonder if “conservatives” even want justices to interpret the Constitution as it was written. How could we possible stay “safe” if they took away all those “protections”?

  21. Jed Says:

    If it is an infringement on a right it is unconstitutional.

    Nope. Almost every right recognized in the Constitution is subject to some form of constitutional infringement. Just to give the most obvious example, freedom of speech is limited by defamation laws, the fighting words doctrine, and the advocacy of illegal action doctrine, among others — all of which are constitutional infringements on the right to free speech.

    In the situation noted above, a restriction of the mode which you can use to travel is not an unconstitutional infringement on your right to travel, since there are other alternative methods available to you to exercise that right.

  22. FishOrMan Says:

    Like I said… Sigh…

    Just because something is actively being done by our .gov doesn’t therefore make it Constitutional. Look at the stupidity in our eminent domain proceedings. Just because that crap is currently ruled by our courts to not be an infringement, does not then make it Constitutional. No matter what foreign laws the 9 justices use in their decision making process or what RI Supreme Courts would like us to believe.

    “Constitutional infringements” that’s a new phrase I hope to never use. What you are calling “Constitutional infringements” are only to take place when the actions you have taken violate the rights of another, such as in the examples you cite.

    “…freedom of speech is limited by defamation laws, the fighting words doctrine, and the advocacy of illegal action doctrine, among others — all of which are constitutional infringements on the right to free speech. …”

    No. They are just the opposite. They are the PROTECTION of the Constitutional Rights of the individual. At least, that is what they are suppose to be. Some laws are just meant to do just that, government standing up for the rights of minorities when their rights have been violated by another. Many, many other laws are just infringements on the Constitution, even when no actually violation has occurred.

    Once again leading us back to “prior restraint” laws, which are infringements on the Constitution, (whether our courts are ruling that way or not).

    Maybe that is where our major difference lies; I believe our courts have utterly failed in their duty to limit government from infringing upon our rights, (whether those rights were spelled out, (a.k.a. enumerated), or not).

  23. CarlS Says:

    Is licensing drivers about safety, revenue, or control?

    Consider this:
    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 privilege, 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

    That being so, then licensing is not Constitutional. Now, the various states manage it so abysmally that it can’t be about revenue. I conclude that it’s about control.

  24. Homer Says:

    Well, all this licensing stuff can’t be about “safety” because I don’t think we are demonstrably more safe because of the ministrations of the DMV bureaucracy. That leaves power and money, which are intertwined.

    It would be interesting to see a by-state ROI on driver and vehicle licensing and learn just how much of a cash cow it is, if at all. I suspect that, given the proclivity of bureacracies to grow unchecked as they find new missions to justify their existence, DMVs may be like the post office: incapable of supporting itself on its own revenues, or just barely so. Certainly, from a customer point of view there’s a negative ROI; since no one in any state’s DMV is accountable to voters, there’s no impetus to provide anything other than the universally crappy service.

    For the retesting issue, I’m loathe to give more power, through a wider mission, to an unresponsive bureaucracy such as a DMV. That said, I think there’s a need to weed out those drivers who pose a hazard to others. Uncle’s example of the Buick driver may be just an average Joe who had a brain fart, or it may be a brain-dead blue hair who does that all the time, and is able to get away with it because the rest of us pay attention when driving.

    Here in Orlando we have the hub of the electonic simulation industry; there’s more of it here than almost anyplace else. While nearly all of it is devoted to developing military training simulations, I’ve seen a couple very accurate driving simulations, admittedly, both of which were oriented toward the military. I’m not aware of any state that is pursuing use of simulators for any sort of remedial driver testing. Anyone know if any state is looking at simulators, or using them?

    Simulations – good ones – are horrendously expensive to develop because everything, including associated hardware (such as a cockpit) has to be constructed from the ground up, and the software gets rather complex because it has to incorporate as many options as possible. They’re also fairly cheap to replicate once the first one is post-beta. Simulations have an advantage over real life in that scenarios can be adjusted to emphasize a particular training component. The better ones can “learn” from user input and respond accordingly. For example, in Uncle’s Buick driver scenario, a proclivity to pull out without looking, or pull out with insufficient clearance to other (moving) vehicles can be detected and either tested for at varying levels of subtlety, or trained to.

    If DMV Directors, and the legislators they are beholden to, were really as interested in “safety” and efficiency as they claim to be, there’s a worldwide market in good testing simulators. As for the criteria of “who gets tested,” most states require some sort of vision testing once past a certain age. It shouldn’t be too difficult to add a 4 minute simulation session (the session would increase in length to test against improper behaviors if any were detected).

    Certain types of moving violations might earn one a sim session. It’s conceivable that some drivers would want to voluntarily take a sim session to prove that they can ace it by demonstrating no risk behaviors. The sim printout, along with no citations or accidents over a certain period, might qualify one for reduced insurance rates. Could a sim be “beaten”? Sure, but a really good one would be subtle enough to adequately test even the best 20 year-old X-Boxer.

    Who runs the sims? As I said, I’m loathe to give a government bureaucracy more reason to grow, and even having the sims run by a private sector outfit would add the “sim layer” of management inside the DMV.

    I think though, as the massive number of boomers become brain-dead Buick drivers, the current method of filtering out the accident prone – by them having accidents – will become too expensive.

  25. Jed Says:


    I can’t put it any clearer than I have in my previous posts, but you’re dead wrong. The concept of limited Constitutional infringement is Constitutional Law 101, and has been recognized as a necessity since Day 1.


    You left out the next sentence of that opinion.

    The exercise of such a common right the city may, under its police power, regulate in the interest of the public safety and welfare; but it may not arbitrarily or unreasonably prohibit or restrict it, nor may it permit one to exercise it and refuse to permit another of like qualifications, under like conditions and circumstances, to exercise it.

  26. markm Says:

    My greatgrandfather kept on working in the business he founded until he was nearly 90. Then my greatuncles saw him going home one day. He went out to the parking lot, got out his car keys, and went down the line of cars, trying his keys in each one. Evidently he couldn’t even tell a red Chevy from a blue Buick anymore, and yet he was ready to drive that Buick home once he found it! Good thing his “kids” caught him and took away his keys before he got into an accident.

    So at a minimum, a real vision test is needed. I don’t know about your state, but Michigan does a very short vision test at every license renewal, but only if you come in person instead of mailing in a form and a check. I could thereby dodge the vision test requirement for over a decade if I wanted to, or simply to avoid standing in line… I also suspect that some people can pass the test but cannot see well enough to drive. The test just requires reading a few letters from a screen. They don’t move, unlike cars. There’s no glare; if I look outside right now, the sun is reflecting off ice on the road in blinding glare, and driving into it would be a real pain. They are well lit; from November to March, I drive to work in the dark and come home in the dark, and it’s far harder to see anything then than it is to read those letters at the driver’s license test. Add rain or swirling snow and it gets worse.

    I think the simulator is a very good idea, provided that it is set up to challenge the testees vision with glare, at night, through light fog or a snowstorm, and with any other adverse conditions you can think of.

  27. FishOrMan Says:

    You used the word “LIMITED”, but you certainly didn’t focus on it. And I do agree with you on LIMITED infringements, but, like I said above, they should be limited to when the rights of the minority/individual has been violated not the guise of “public safety” that government now uses to ban guns, collect fees, license drivers, ect.

    Back to the issue of drivers licensing; I see you have fallen back on this crap that government can infringe on a right under the BS of “safety”, “public health”, “moral welfare”, “for the children”. We’ve heard if phrased a thousand different ways, but they all constitute prior restraint laws. And just about everyone here has stated time and again the licensing of drivers has nothing to do with “safety”. So, where does that leave government to get it’s authority over a right again???

    Unless, of course, you believe the act of licensing those of us who choose to obey the law will somehow make us safe from the criminals who don’t…???

  28. tgirsch Says:


    I had forgotten about the reclining leather seats (although my car does indeed have them), but yes, you get the bonus points. 🙂

  29. Phelps Says:

    The initial test is about safety. That is why you are tested (and a LOT of people fail that first test.) Then after that, it is about identification. Drivers licenses weren’t supposed to be ID (they were supposed to be license to drive) but that is no longer the case.

    You have to renew it periodically so that the state has a way of forcing you to update the address they have for you in thier files, and to allow them to get a new photo of you. That’s it.

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