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