If someone’s going to do something potentially dangerous that can affect other people, I’d like to know that that person has been adequately taught and tested. If a doctor is going to do surgery, for example, I want her to have gone through a whole bunch of training beforehand, and I want her to have been rigorously assessed to make sure she can do it correctly. I want her degree to show that she’s qualified to open up my insides.

Similarly, if someone is going to drive a car–a very large, very deadly, very fast machine–I want that person to have proven, through a rigorous process, that she is capable of driving that car safely and responsibly. That’s the idea behind the driver’s license, as far as I can tell: that document you keep in your wallet proves that you have been rigorously tested and have proven yourself trustworthy behind the wheel.

So I was happy to discover, when James needed to renew his license recently, that license renewal is a pretty arduous process in Portland. However, it turns out that it’s hard for all the wrong reasons.

License renewal is not hard because:

  • You have to pass a difficult driving test
  • You have to show that you can drive courteously and interact safely with other roadway users
  • You have to prove that you know and abide by the rules of the road
  • Or really anything that has to do with driving

No, it turns out that you don’t have to do any of those things to renew your license. What you do need to do is:

  • Present proof of your full legal name
  • Provide your social security number (and thus have a social security number)
  • Provide proof that you are a legal Oregon resident
  • Pay the $40 re-application fee
  • Be able to go to the DMV in person and wait for a whole bunch of time during normal business hours
  • And, if you’re over 50, you have to pass a vision test. But otherwise, no tests necessary

So maybe I’m more incensed about this than is necessary, but it seems like the DMV makes it hard to renew your license for all the wrong reasons. It’s annoying to gather together proof of your social security number, legal name, address, etc, etc, etc (and perhaps impossible if you’re, say, an undocumented worker). It’s hard if you work a minimum wage hourly job to make your way to a DMV office between 9 and 5 on weekdays, and then pay the required $40 (which would take, without taxes factored in, about five hours to earn). I get the fact that it’s a government-issued ID so they want to be stringent about checking certain things, and I’m not even necessarily saying that the DMV should be more lax about those, but is that really all we want to focus on when we’re talking about who in this country should be able to drive?

Shouldn’t license renewal require proving that you can still drive? That you know what the rules of the road are? That you’re basically well-adjusted and won’t use your power for evil? Shouldn’t it be something where you actually have to prove you’re capable of driving? Especially seeing as how, if you’re not, the damage you can do is so vast?

I’m definitely open to being pushed on this, but my initial reaction is that we’re focusing on all the wrong things… Thoughts?


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