An administrative affair

driving licence

I have a licence to drive. The state permits me to operate a vehicle on the public highway. To get this privilege, I had to demonstrate competence: to pass a driving test administered by the state. It’s the state’s job to ensure that when you use the public highway the motor vehicles you share it with are operated by people of established competence.

Everyone who has passed a driving test knows there are many ways to bring your competence into question. Top of the list is colliding — with a tree, a gatepost, a parked car or (whisper it) another road user. No one expects to pass a driving test in which they have collided with something or someone.

Driving examiners protect the public from drivers who are not demonstrably competent. Police officers investigating highway collisions should be empowered to do the same. In real life as much as in a driving test, a collision brings a driver’s competence into question. Investigating officers should as a matter of routine take and keep the licences of drivers involved in a collision until the investigation — or a subsequent court hearing — has removed the question over their competence. (This suspension should be for a minimum period — at  least 24 hours — to remove pressure on officers to resolve the matter on the spot.)

It would be a great inconvenience for drivers who collide, but there is no question here of reversal of the burden of proof or of punishment without trial. This is an administrative matter, protecting the public from drivers whose competence is currently in question. No right is being infringed. A licence to drive is a privilege requiring a demonstration of competence. It should be routinely suspended while that competence is being investigated. Who supports sharing our roads with drivers whose competence is in question? 

It is a sad thought, but the certainty of an immediate end to one’s journey and the added inconvenience of getting one’s vehicle impounded if no one else is available to drive it, would do more to improve driving standards than the currently remote prospect of conviction for a driving offence.

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One Comment

  1. I once asked a German colleague why, on a section of Autobahn just outside Dusseldorf where there was a 100kph limit, verbody was driving at about 98kph? Literally no-one was exceeding the limit.

    His answer: if you are pulled over by the police for speeding, you get an on-the-spot fine. You have to pay in cash, and the amount is above what most people carry in cash these days. So they have to take you in to town to the police station and to a cash machine. But until you have paid your fine you are not permitted to drive. You car has to stay on the hard shoulder. You have to take a taxi back as the police don’t give you another lift. The chances that your car will have been relieved of its wheels are fairly high.

    Sounds pretty effective!

    Reply

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