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Why is the DMV the primary source for identification in this country?

American culture is so heavily auto-centric that people who cannot drive, and people who choose not to drive face deep obstacles. There are many reasons that people do not drive:

  1. They cannot afford it.
  1. They are handicapped.
  1. They are too old or young to drive.
  1. They think living car-fee is good for the environment.

Though too often if you don't drive some will assume:

  1. You had your license suspended, since you are some kind of criminal or drunk.

After all diving is so essential to being American who in their right mind could turn it down? Right?

Non-drivers in the US are disproportionally poor and disproportionally nonwhite.  We rely on public transit to get around, and our own two legs, bicycles, and shared car services. Often, when discussing the funding or location of public transit, the demographic represented by pubic transit users is used to disparage the service. Pubic transit is accused of bringing "undesirables" to "desirable" areas. The poor system of public transit in many cities maintains social separation as effective as any wall or barbed wire fence. Unless you live in a few of the walkable places in this country, a car free life is decidedly second-class.

In addition to this we have let DRIVING become the basis for our notion of identity in this country. To be "someone" is to have a drivers license. It is required in so many situations that many states issue "non-driver's IDs" through the DMV. Even if you are not a driver, you must visit the Department of Motor Vehicles to have the necessary identification to participate normally in society in activities that have little to do with driving. There is something absurd about this.

Imagine if showing your license to fly a plane was the main means of identifying yourself to police, and for legal purposes. (Old enough to drink? Where is your flying license?) All people who don't own their private planes must still go and get a "non-flier flying licensee" --do you see the absurdity of this system? I think it is often overlooked since non-drivers are viewed as rare "exceptions" to what is "normal" and expected in America: that you will own and drive a car.

So, how did this happen? Well, simply, we have a need to identify people in the US but very few people want to see a "National ID" resistance to national identification comes from both the left and the right. The right realizes that national IDs might democratize the process of identification, they would take away power from states.  Being able to identify yourself would not be tied to driving, or being rich enough to travel (even fewer people have passports than driver's licenses) It would not be tied to the birth certificates issued by states. No, it would be a national matter. Republicans don't want this-- the patch-work system that leaves the white an well-off more "identifiable" while the rest of us fall through the cracks suits them just fine. In addition, such a card might make social services more organized and accessible, and Republican hate that.

In the other hand, many on the left see national IDs as the first step towards a very dangerous form of central control. And depending on implementation it could exclude millions. They have a good point! I'm not writing this to advocate for national ID-- but rather I'm writing to point out why "driving based" identification is flawed.  I want to ask that we THINK before saying "Oh, you could just show your driver's license" it is not that simple for many Americans, and they are not bad people because they can't show a driver's license. In addition there are plenty of people who are not American who should have driver's licenses. Think about it. Anyone driving in the country on a regular basis should have one. But having a license to drive is so deeply conflated with "being American" that some states will not issues licenses to anyone but citizens and most Americans support this since they think that driving on our roads is pretty much what makes you American, I guess.

But, to me, it isn't. Living here, contributing to our society and helping to build this country is what makes one an American, in my view.  I don't know how to best identify that quality --but the DMV is not it. The DMVs in our country should focus on keeping the roads safe, not deciding who is a true American.

Originally posted to futurebird on Sat May 01, 2010 at 07:00 AM PDT.


Do you have a driver's license?

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Comment Preferences

    •  And also. but too... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bablhous, futurebird, cn4st4datrees

      It is your right to be 'out and about' without I.D.

      No state requires anyone to carry I.D. or even to possess a birth certificate at any time for any state.

      Maybe NOT smart, but your right.

      And also, but too such as the whatever...

      Are the Senate dems tone deaf to the average American or even it's base...!?!?

      Any National ID must:

      1. apply to everyone and...(who would be everyone)
      1. be tamper proof NOT just tamper resistant
      1. include very harsh penalty for attempted using outside employment apps
      1. NOT be used as a ID app other than employment (who are they kidding...???)

      "Let me be blunt: We've already been to the moon. Now we're going to Mars" - Barack Obama (04.15.10...Kennedy Space Center Audience )

      by 2questions on Sat May 01, 2010 at 07:16:56 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Or they just can't drive! (4+ / 0-)

      There are many reasons that people do not drive:

      They cannot afford it.
      They are handicapped.
      They are too old or young to drive.
      They think living car-fee is good for the environment

      There are many people who should never get behind the wheel of a car, and some of them actually are aware of that.

      •  Ironic (4+ / 0-)

        Some of the people who are aware enough of how dangerous cars can be, and hence choose not to drive-- might make very good drivers.

        A lot of people think they are good drivers, but really are threats to human life on four wheels.

        •  In Another Comment I Mentioned My DC (4+ / 0-)

          license. Cause it was expired for a few days I had to take both the written and actual driving test to get a Illinois license. No big deal, been driving since 1986 and had one ticket and no accidents.

          As I was taking the written test on their computers a guy next to me flunked for the third time that day. I heard a DMV worker say that in Illinois you can only take the written test three times in a day. He'd have to try again the next day.

          He was taking the test for a COMMERCIAL license.

          "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." - George Orwell

          by webranding on Sat May 01, 2010 at 07:25:51 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I agree with your general point (7+ / 0-)

    But not the point of the ID. I have an ID and I do not drive. It doesn't bother me that I have to go to the DMV to get one.

    But your larger point, that non-drivers are "less than" is a very good one. I get that a lot. There must be a dark reason why I don't drive.

    When people ask why I don't have a car, I say "the same reason you don't own a __ (boat, skateboard, roller skates, whatever). I don't need one."

    And that is the truth. That's all there is to it. I don't need one. I don't like cars. I hate sitting in cars. They make me sleepy and sometimes sick.

    It's sometimes those same people who ask, with a bit of attitude, how I stay so skinny. Sigh....

    "In fact, Sarah Palin is just Snooki without the much-needed self-awareness." Amelie Gillette

    by BoiseBlue on Sat May 01, 2010 at 07:11:23 AM PDT

  •  I didn't have a drivers licence (6+ / 0-)

    until I was in my thirties. Having been born and raised in NYC, I had zero reason to have one. Neither my parents nor my friends' parents owned a car, and driving was unnecessary.

    I often miss the days of being able to live my life without the hassle and expense of car ownership.

    You don't bring a knife to a gunfight and you don't bring a chicken to the doctor.

    by beltane on Sat May 01, 2010 at 07:11:26 AM PDT

  •  Personally, I'd like to see a national driver's (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    webranding, cn4st4datrees

    license, auto tags and no-fault auto insurance as an option for those who travel a lot.

    My biggest gripe about I.D. is this insistence, for the past decade or so, that we be required to identify ourselves at a LEO's request, when no crime is alleged.

    "The human eye is a wonderful device. With a little effort, it can fail to see even the most glaring injustice." Richard K. Morgan

    by sceptical observer on Sat May 01, 2010 at 07:12:27 AM PDT

  •  This Has Never Made Any Sense To Me (5+ / 0-)

    About eight years ago I moved from DC to Illinois. I waited a few months to get an Illinois drivers license, only after I noticed my DC license had expired. I went online to see all the different forms of ID I needed. I ended up taking more forms of ID then needed, in case for some reason they wouldn't take this or that.

    Social security card. My DC license. Proof of insurance. Birth certificate. Utility bill. Checkbook and bank statement. Passport.

    Now with all that said I get why they need this info. But I'd sure hate to think I'd have to carry that much stuff around with me in AZ to prove who I am.

    I am not sure a biometrics national ID card is the correct solution (I got issues with the biometrics part), but it would seem we ought to have a better solution then DMV.

    "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." - George Orwell

    by webranding on Sat May 01, 2010 at 07:14:16 AM PDT

  •  And of course, there's no bus to get there (4+ / 0-)

    Even if you are not a driver, you must visit the Department of Motor Vehicles to have the necessary identification to participate normally in society in activities that have little to do with driving. There is something absurd about this

    By 'we', you are presumably referring to non-drivers?

    Non-drivers in the US are disproportionally poor and disproportionally nonwhite.  We rely on public transit to get around,

  •  I just applied for a passport. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Certified copy of birth certificate and government-issued photo ID required.

    Lost my driver's license back in December, DUI.  Immediately went to DMV and obtained non-driver photo ID.  Simple process, new photo ID took about one week to arrive in mail.

    But it does rather gall me that without that government photo ID that looks like a driver's license, I can't do squat in regards to applying for employment, obtaining county health services, enrolling in college, getting a passport, riding Amtrak (oh yeah, they check for your ID at the ticket counter and on the train)... the list goes on.

    The question is not what, but who you want to be. --F.R. Prince

    by cn4st4datrees on Sat May 01, 2010 at 08:04:42 AM PDT

  •  I'm thinking very seriously of using a scooter (0+ / 0-)

    for local transportation needs and selling my car. I would still rent a car (tax deductable in this case) if my business trips out of town require it.

    In my state, I will not need a motorcyclist's license if (as I plan to do) I buy a scooter with an engine size of 49 cc or less. I will retain my driver's license when I need it.

    I have flow thru Detriot in recent months and the number of TSA women in hijab is alarming. It's like the foxes are overseeing the chicken coop -- A RW blogger.

    by Kimball Cross on Sat May 01, 2010 at 08:09:51 AM PDT

  •  I have a NY state issued (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    non-driver ID.

    "My case is alter'd, I must work for my living." Moll Cut-Purse, The Roaring Girl - 1612, England's First Actress

    by theRoaringGirl on Sat May 01, 2010 at 08:21:25 AM PDT

  •  Is my international driver's license acceptable? (0+ / 0-)

    If I can successfully negotiate the streets of Herculaneum/Naples/Amalfi Coast and live to tell about it, my IDL should be good enough here in the states.

    "We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope."

    by mydailydrunk on Sat May 01, 2010 at 08:35:06 AM PDT

    •  Yes and no (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The last time I got an IDL, in 2002, there were several pertinent provisions:

      This permit is valid in the territory of all the Contracting States with the exception of the territory of the Contracting State where issued ...

      Your valid U.S. [since I received the IDL in the U.S.] driver's license must accompany the IDP at all times.

      So, if you have an Italian DL, for example, your IDL would be good in the U.S. if you presented it together with your Italian license.

      On the other hand, the IDL (mine was called an International Driving Permit or IDP) also provides:

      It is understood that this permit shall in no way affect the obligation of the holder to conform strictly to the laws and regulations relating to residence or the exercise of a profession which are in force in each country through which he travels.

      I don't know what that bit about "exercise of a profession" relates to, but many U.S. states have very strict rules about obtaining a local DL within a relatively short time after you have been physically in the state. Virginia, for example, says:

      Within 60 days of moving here, you must obtain a Virginia driver's license. However, if you hold a commercial driver's license (CDL), you must obtain a Virginia CDL within 30 days.

      So, if you get stopped, speak using an accent appropriate to the country in which your IDL was issued and say that you're a tourist.
      As for the roads around Amalfi, as near as I could tell, all of the local cars had no right-side outside mirror and a lot of right-side scrapes from when they hit the cliff in an effort to keep the vehicle on the other side from going over the edge.

      •  lol re: mirrors (0+ / 0-)

        That happened to me blasting through some narrow medieval street in Positano.  Besides, if you're using your mirrors in Italy, you've already lost the game.  And the busses.  Ack!  Took one of the local bus down the hill to Amalfi, truly the most frightening experience of my life.

        "We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope."

        by mydailydrunk on Sat May 01, 2010 at 01:22:33 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I know many New Yorkers who just don't drive (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Their sole means of getting around is public transportation and are lucky to live in a city were public transportation works most of the time.  They have just never had the need, or opportunity to learn how to drive, but are also limited to travel with the realm of NYC.  Outside of the City, they must depend on the kindness of strangers.

    And it feels like I'm livin'in the wasteland of the free ~ Iris DeMent, 1996

    by MrJersey on Sat May 01, 2010 at 08:54:16 AM PDT

  •  IDs can lead to weird problems (0+ / 0-)

    My partner doesn't drive due to a medical condition, but she does have a state issued ID, the one you get at the DMV.  It looks a bit like a license, but not completely.  We were getting a dozen bagels at a local shop, and she was writing a check when the clerk asked for her driver's license as ID for the check (even though we had a guarantee card for that account.)  She told the clerk she didn't have a DL, but here's her state ID.  The clerk announced she couldn't take her check, she didn't have a DL, the state ID card wasn't good enough.   OK, stupid clerk, yes, but without some sort of standardized system, this kind of thing happens.  Over and over...this wasn't an isolated incidence, just the most annoying.  (She took MY DL as ID for our joint account.  Stupid.)

    "I will sing you a song no one sang to can be anybody that you want to be

    by two moms in Az on Sat May 01, 2010 at 10:36:01 AM PDT

  •  Interesting diary, (0+ / 0-)

    I hope you don't mind if I add it to the eKos database and give it the eKos tag.

    I hadn't really thought about this before. I know you can get state IDs without getting a driver's license, but you still have to go to the DMV (or tag agency, depending on where you live). In New York, they even call it a "Non-Driver Photo ID Card", as if there is something wrong with you if you don't drive. This conflation is disturbing.

    "Interesting. No, wait, the other thing: tedious." -Bender

    by patrickz on Sat May 01, 2010 at 10:54:14 AM PDT

  •  I'm a voluntary non-driver. (0+ / 0-)

    There are some people who should not drive a car and I am one of them. Over the years, I have taken lessons, both professional and familial, and have not done well at all. In fact, I have a series of well-polished amusing stories about my adventures behind the wheel which stand me in good stead at parties.

    But I manage. I live within walking distance of a light rail station. I have family and friends who are glad to transport me and I walk LOTS.

    My one bone to gnaw is the standard reaction I get when I tell anyone. "But, you're smart. It's not that hard."

    My usual comeback is that it's got nothing to do with I.Q. There are plenty of morans who disprove that criterion. It's reaction time and visual perception that does me in behind the wheel.

    And, usually, nobody listens.

    Do what you can with what you have where you are - Guild of Maintainers

    by bablhous on Sat May 01, 2010 at 04:12:27 PM PDT

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