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The real purpose of driver's licenses: safe drivers?

May 4, 2005

In expressing concern about a bill sneaking through Congress that would make state issued driver's licenses into national IDs, a New York Times Editorial is concerned that the gov't will forget: "the real purpose of driver's licenses: safe drivers." There's just one problem. Driver's licenses were not introduced for that reason. My grandmother, who was around at the time, told me years ago that driver's licenses originally had no photo for ID purposes nor any requirement for testing the safety of the driver. When they were first introduced, as she recalls, the purpose was entirely plain: Raise revenue for the state government. The "driver's license" was really just a receipt to show that you had paid your tax on being a driver.

 Now perhaps this was specific to North Carolina where my Grandmother grew up. I would be curious if anyone knows (or remembers) the original rationale given for introducing driver's licenses in various states. Whatever the original purpose, as these licenses now are on their way to becoming the "papers" in "your papers, please" one might suggest that the government doesn't have "safe drivers" as a top priority whatever they tell us.

(Also should be noted is the appalling death toll on the gov't roads (Don't drive in Wyoming... Yikes!))

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