What If People Didn’t Need Driver’s Licenses & Cars Didn’t Have License Plates?

Sep 15, 2018 · 8 min read

A Look At An Alternate Reality Where You Didn’t Need A License To Drive An Unregistered Car, And Then Some People Demanded That Things Change

By David Grace (www.DavidGraceAuthor.com)

An Alternate Reality

Writers love to make up stories set in an alternate reality where the flow of history has turned left instead of right. I’ve always liked Len Deighton’s crime novel, SS-GB, set in an England that surrendered to Germany in 1941 and is under occupation by Nazi forces.

An America With No Driver’s Licenses

So, following that tradition, this is a column about an America where there are no such things as driver’s licenses and vehicle license plates.

While there is a patchwork of cities in this America that require cars to be registered, most vehicles lack license plates and there is no uniform vehicle registration system.

In most jurisdictions a driver’s license is required before you can operate certain types of large vehicles — buses or ten-ton trucks — but these requirements are haphazard at best. There are some traffic laws but without cars having license plates and operators having driver’s licenses, their enforcement is anemic to say the least.

Generally speaking, in this alternate America where if anyone wants to drive a car they can just slide in behind the wheel and hit the gas.

The Movement To License Drivers & Vehicles

In response to horrific numbers of accidents and the publicity surrounding numerous catastrophic crashes, a wave of public support has arisen for the passage of rules requiring

  • Would-be drivers to to take and pass a driving test
  • All drivers to obtain a driver’s license
  • Licensed drivers who accrue too many tickets, are convicted of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, lose their vision, or contract a disease that would make it difficult for them to drive safely, may have their licenses revoked.
  • All vehicles would be registered and would display a license plate so that their owners could be identified if the car was in an accident or was used in connection with a crime.

The Opposition To Driver’s Licenses

These proposals were greeted with massive protests. The arguments against requiring vehicles to be registered and drivers to be licensed were:

  • People don’t need training to be able to operate a vehicle. Anyone can do it, and driver’s training and driving tests would just be a waste of time and money.
  • Since a determined criminal could still escape from a crime scene by walking, taking a bus, or riding a bike, there is no point in making cars have license plates.
  • Many of the horrendous accidents the car-control supporters complain about would have happened even if the driver at fault had been licensed and was driving a registered vehicle, therefore, there is no point in registering vehicles or making drivers have licenses.
  • In the event the government tries to impose a totalitarian state, the driver’s license database could be used to track down citizens who may want to mount a rebellion against that tyrannical state.
  • The people proposing these rules are leftist, anti-car eco-fanatics who want to eliminate all private cars in favor of mass-transit electric buses and trains.
  • While these proposed rules are reasonable, licensing drivers and registering vehicles is the eco-fanatics first step in taking away all private ownership of vehicles. Once vehicles are registered the anti-car people will move to restrict who can buy a car. Eventually, the government will seize all private cars. In order to stop this inevitable progression we must draw the line here and refuse to require driver’s licenses and vehicle registration.

Those are the two sides of this debate.

Now, Back To Our America

OK, now let’s go back to the America we live in, the one where in most places for close to about a hundred years:

  • Every driver has had to pass a driving test and have a driver’s license
  • Every vehicle has had to be registered and display a license place
  • Every driver could have his license revoked for excessive traffic violations, certain physical or mental disabilities, or for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol

Keeping in mind the reasons the alternate-reality citizens gave for opposing the licensing of drivers and the registration of vehicles, do you think we should:

  • Let anyone who wants to drive just get behind the wheel without any training, testing or licensing?
  • Not keep a database of who owns a particular vehicle
  • Do away with vehicle license plates?
  • Allow people with several moving violations or convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs to continue to drive?

Substitute “Gun” For “Car” & “Gun Owner” For “Driver”

Now, go through this column and substitute the words “gun” or “firearm” for “car” and “vehicle” and the words “gun owner” for “driver”.

Would a reasonable person with an appreciable level of common sense think it’s a good idea to

  • Let anyone who wants to own a gun just buy one without any training, testing or licensing?
  • Not keep a database of who owns a particular gun?
  • Do away with gun serial numbers?
  • Allow people with several criminal violations or convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs to continue to own a gun?

But, I Have A Right To Own A Gun!

I can already hear someone protesting: You’re forgetting that I don’t have a right to drive a car but I do have a right to own a gun!

Before anyone gets too excited by the notion that driving a car is a privilege while owning a gun is a right, you need to understand that in the real world neither one is a black and white proposition.

Driving A Car Is More Than Just A Privilege. To Some Degree, It’s A Right

Driving a car is not a pure privilege subject to arbitrary limitation by the state.

If the government tried to arbitrarily deny driver’s licenses to people under thirty-five or Muslims, or people who didn’t own their own homes or any other arbitrary category, the courts would strike down any such law as arbitrarily discriminatory.

In spite of driving being called a privilege, the courts would find that those citizens had a right to have a driver’s license.

Owning A Gun Is Not An Absolute Right.

Neither is owning a gun is an inviolate right that is immune from any restriction by the state.

  • While the 2nd Amendment makes no exception for felons, the laws against felons owning firearms are constitutional.
  • The 2nd Amendment makes no exception for automatic weapons, yet laws restricting the ownership of fully automatic weapons are constitutional.
  • The 2nd Amendment makes no exception for laws against carrying loaded, concealed weapons, yet laws restricting carrying loaded, concealed weapons are constitutional.
  • The 2nd Amendment does not guarantee the right to anonymously keep and bear arms, and laws requiring that firearms must be registered are constitutional.

Excluding suicides, there were approximately 40,000 people killed or injured by firearms in the U.S. in 2015, which is roughly the same as the number of people who died in traffic accidents in the U.S. in 2015.

Numbers of this magnitude coupled with the deadly nature of firearms would support a finding that there is a compelling state interest in requiring that would-be gun owners must demonstrate a reasonable level of training in the safe storage and use of firearms and a law requiring such training would be constitutional.

I took driver training classes. I passed a driving test. I got a driver’s license. I own a car. I registered the car. If I were to accrue a certain number of moving violation “points” or be convicted of a certain number of occasions of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, I would lose my right to drive a vehicle.

I took and passed an NRA gun-safety class. I got a gun. It has a serial number. I would be happy to register that gun should the law require me to do so. If I were convicted of certain crimes, became mentally ill, or recklessly or illegally used my gun, I would, and should, lose my right to own that gun.

  • If you want to have a gun, that’s fine. I have one too.
  • If you know how to safely store and use a gun, good. So do I.
  • If you don’t know how to safely store and use a gun, you shouldn’t have a gun and I, as your potential neighbor, don’t want you to have one.
  • If you’re a felon or mentally ill, you shouldn’t have a gun and I, as your potential neighbor, don’t want you to have one.
  • If you’ve threatened innocent people with your gun, fired it wildly, or used it in a seriously unsafe manner, you shouldn’t have a gun and I, as your potential neighbor, don’t want you to have one.

But what I want or don’t want isn’t what counts. What matters is having reasonable rules for the reasonable safety of all citizens that pass constitutional muster.

Responsible People Vs. Reckless People

Reasonable, law-abiding, responsible, trained adults have the right to have a gun. Good. None of the people working for reasonable, common-sense gun-ownership reforms want to stop them from having one.

Reckless, criminal, mentally ill, irresponsible, untrained people shouldn’t have a gun and if you’re one of those people, speaking as someone who might be living next door to you, driving next to you, shopping at a store or eating in a restaurant near you, it’s just too dangerous for you to have a gun.

A Compelling State Interest In The Safety Of Citizens

There is such a compelling state interest in protecting all of us from reckless, criminal, mentally ill, irresponsible, untrained people having guns that laws preventing irresponsible, reckless, untrained, criminal, and mentally ill people from having a gun would be constitutional.

The Real Reason Many People Want Unregistered Guns

I know. I know. The real reason you don’t want to have to pass a background check, get a license or register your gun, especially your military-style assault weapon, is that you want to anonymously own it so that you can be ready to rise up in an armed rebellion against a government you don’t like.

You figure that you have a right to mount an armed insurrection when “the other side” passes laws you think violate your rights even though the other side won the election and the courts upheld those laws.

Thank you for reminding us all of the terrorists’ fundamental principle:

I’m right. God is on my side. You all are wrong. That justifies me in grabbing my gun and overthrowing your government.

Tell it to the Taliban. That’s not how we’re supposed to do things in this country.

–David Grace (www.DavidGraceAuthor.com)

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Graduate of Stanford University & U.C. Berkeley Law School. Author of 17 novels and over 200 Medium columns on Economics, Politics, Law, Humor & Satire.

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