Little Bits of History

Cruising Legally

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 26, 2013
Keys to freedom

Keys to freedom

March 26, 1934: The United Kingdom implements a driving test that must be passed in order to obtain a driving license. France and Germany were among the first countries to demand drivers be licensed after proving capable of handling a car. The two countries required this proof of skill level when traffic fatalities rose, as early as 1903. On August 1, 1910, North America’s first licensing law, which affected only chauffeurs, went into effect in New York state. By July 1913, New Jersey required all drivers to be licensed.

In the UK today, the exam is divided into three parts: theory, hazard perception, and practical tests. Drivers must pass all three areas. There is some controversy surrounding the hazard perception portion due to questionable administration procedures. There are different requirements for licensing of car drivers, motorcyclists, and HGV drivers (large goods or truck drivers). In Great Britain the Driving Standards Agency issues licenses while in Northern Ireland, the Driver & Vehicle Agency is in charge.

The European Union has given the 300 million drivers in the EU one credit card-style license with a photo or possibly a microchip included. This one card replaced the 110 different plastic or paper cards that were previously issued by various countries throughout Europe. They have raised the eligibility age to 17 or 18 as well, unless a license is for a moped or a small motorcycle (engine size under 125 cc).

Driver’s licenses can also be used as identification cards since Australia, Canada, the UK, and the US do not have national ID cards. Many states in the US issue cards in a vertical orientation to drivers under the age of 21 (the legal age in many states to buy tobacco, alcohol, and lottery tickets) while the orientation shifts to horizontal for those 21 and over. Some countries demand proof of licensure immediately upon request, making it necessary to carry your license at all times. In the UK, you have up to 7 days to show your license at a Police Station. Some European countries not only demand you carry your license/ID at all times, but if you cross country borders, you must also have your passport with you.

“American youth attributes much more importance to arriving at driver’s license age than at voting age.” – Marshall McLuhan

“Must we accept that the only alternatives are to either incrementally improve our current patchwork of identification documents, drivers licenses, Social Security cards and the like, or alternatively, move to some centralized federal data bases that aggregate all sorts of privacy-sensitive information.” – Mike Castle

“There’s more information on your driver’s license than on the census short form.” – Kenneth Prewitt

“Imagine going to the driver’s license office every day.” – John McCusker

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: License can be a verb (meaning to grant a license) or a noun (meaning documented permission). In Britain it is spelled licence and the person granting one is a licensor while the person receiving one is a licensee. A license can be granted for intellectual  property and is often called a patent. It can also be a trademark. A license is also an academic degree, especially when earning a doctorate. There are dog licenses as well as pilot licenses. There are television and amateur radio licenses. One can get a hunting license and it can be specific as to prey. Fishing licenses usually cover all fish. There is also a need for a marriage license should you wish to marry. And then, if you are James Bond, you might have a license to kill.

Also on this day: Stella! – In 1911, Tennessee Williams was born.
Dr. Death – In 1999, Dr. Kevorkian was found guilty of second degree murder.
Mother Ship – In 1997, the Heaven’s Gate suicides were discovered.

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