You Have No “Right” to Drive a Car

You can find out almost anything on the Internet. Including a lot that isn’t true.

To prove that point, some kind souls have built some convincing hoax websites. A site for ordering gasoline online is one example. The delightful Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus is another. They illustrate beautifully why you can’t believe what you read on the Internet.

The right to drive is not in the U.S. Constitution.
Did the Founding Fathers assert our right to drive a car?
Is a driver’s license an infringement of that right?

If only all the misinformation were in the form of amusing hoaxes.

Try Googling “driving is a constitutional right.” You’ll end up more than 45 million results. Not all of them are terribly relevant, but a surprising number of Web pages out there are dedicated to the – mistaken – idea that the right to drive your car is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Some even assert that driver’s licenses are an unconstitutional infringement of individual rights.

The not-so-sad fact is that there is no “right” to drive. In the U.S. – and in any country you care to name – driving is a privilege. In order to obtain the privilege, you must apply for a license and abide by the rules of the road.

Freedom of Movement = Right to Drive?

People who insist that driving is a right invariably point out that the Constitution guarantees freedom of movement. And it does.

So can I get into a car without a license and drive? No. You can ride as a passenger anywhere you want – that is your constitutional right. But operating a motor vehicle still requires a license, because the states have reserved the right to require one.

The matter came up in California in 1999. The case was Miller vs. Reed, in the 9th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. The decision stated:

While the ‘right of travel’ is a fundamental right, the privilege to operate a motor vehicle can be conditionally granted based upon being licensed and following certain rules. If rules are broken or laws are violated, the State reserves the right to restrict or revoke a person’s privilege.

So the matter is settled in California, and courts in other states are not falling all over each other to rule otherwise. So we can expect to see the “driving is a constitutional right” pages fade away as people discard their mistaken ideas and embrace the truth.

And if you believe that, maybe we could interest you in some dehydrated water.