455: Legal Driving

Do you think vehicle licensing & registration is beneficial?


Full episode script

When vehicles started becoming an option viable enough that cities and counties felt the need to pass laws about their use and requirements. Much like current laws about self-driving vehicles, there was a wide variety of standards and requirements that made it difficult for drivers to drive their cars from one city to another, legally.

Quoting from Time’s history of license plates:

“On Apr. 25, 1901, New York Governor Benjamin Odell Jr. signed into law a bill requiring owners of motor vehicles to register with the state. It also mandated that the every automobile or motor cycle bear “the separate initials of the owner’s name placed upon the back thereof in a conspicuous place, the letters forming such initials to be at least three inches in height.”
Though the new law put an extra burden on drivers, they were left “rejoicing” at news the bill was signed, wrote the New York Tribune. The reason was that, before the law passed, local regulations often differed—which meant that not only were the laws hard to follow, but also that drivers often found themselves losing out to people who got around by horse.”

This was the beginning of a push for car-friendly and car-centric legal frameworks within the United States, but it certainly wasn’t the very last.

Today, licensing, registration, and gas taxes are a part of — but definitely not all — of what pays for road infrastructure. CityLab estimates that the Highway Trust Fund relies about 42% on non-user revenue to pay road costs, 10% is bond revenue, and the remaining 48% comes from taxes of various kinds specifically on drivers.

These taxes also do not account for the estimated $3.3 trillion a year in economic impacts of driving,, ranging from pollution, accidents, traffic, and the like.

There are some, including a few senators in New Jersey, who believe that registration is an archaic system. In 2015, they attempted to pass a law that would eliminate the need to re-register a vehicle – ever.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.