In one of the funniest videos on YouTube, “Gary Johnson Booed at the Libertarian Debate for Supporting Driver’s Licenses,” libertarian radio host Larry Elder poses the question of whether a license should be required to operate a car. Darryl Perry, a hopeful candidate for the party’s nomination, delivers the legendary reply, “What’s next, a license to make toast in your own damn toaster?” to uproarious applause. All Gary Johnson, who ultimately received the nomination, gets to say before being cut off by a chorus of boos is “I’d like to see some competency […] exhibited by people before they drive.” The top comment on the video says that “a driver license is just proof that you successfully drove a lazy government worker around the block.”
It’s obviously ridiculous to suggest that anyone be allowed to operate a 3000-pound motor vehicle at highway speeds or in populated areas without first being vetted, but doesn’t this YouTube libertarian have a point?
I find it distressing that all anyone needs to operate a 3000-pound motor vehicle at highway speeds or in populated areas is to pass — usually while still a teenager — a single, woefully incomplete test administered by an underpaid, disinterested DMV worker. As long as one avoids obviously running red lights, driving under the influence, or egregiously speeding — or even just does these things without being caught by a traffic police force notorious for racial profiling, power-tripping and unprofessionalism — one’s license remains pristine basically for life.
Driver’s licenses should have to be renewed every few years. The test should be repeated to ensure a driver is still safe to be on the road. This will not only keep those who aren’t safe behind the steering wheel off the roads, but also encourage safe drivers to frequently brush up.
The most immediately apparent issue with the test is that drivers go decades without having to retake it. This is fine for skilled drivers who know the rules of the road, but a huge number of people are worse drivers as adults than they were in their teens. By making the test a periodical inspection — like we have for cars — this problem would be solved.
This raises more issues, of course. The test, as it exists, is deeply flawed and fails to account for a number of common bad driving practices while disproportionately punishing inconsequential mistakes. In a perfect world, the test would get restructured to better line up with actual road situations. On top of this, I think that the people giving the test should be better trained, better paid, take the test seriously, and be taken seriously by test takers.
This could carry with it a refurbishment of the DMV on the whole. No government office is more hated than the DMV, for good reason. It’s the worst, most visible example of the decaying bureaucracy that supports (or fails to support) the government, and it’s an inconvenience, a disrespected blemish on American society that desperately needs an upgrade. Tax money should go to improving rot like this, not on predator drones and militarized police.
Cars, for better or worse (probably worse, considering their environmental effect), are a fundamental part of American life. We need to understand more fully what an enormous responsibility being a driver is, and if more rigorous testing and a more streamlined DMV lead to fewer cars on the road and fewer bad drivers behind the wheel, only good things can follow.