Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Driver's Licenses

The other day, I was reading an Archie comic from 1942 that got me wondering about something. The comic starts out with Archie in his new jalopy telling Betty that he just learned to drive yesterday. Just learned to drive yesterday and is now driving his own car? No time with a learner's permit? Could you indeed get a driver's license that fast or did you even have to have one in the early 1940's?

I had never really thought about it before, so I did some poking around and here a few of the things I found out. The first licenses were issued by Massachusetts and Missouri in 1903, but they were more like an ID card and no exam was required to get them. In 1908, Rhode Island was the first state that made you show your driving skills before they would issue you a license, and in 1913, New Jersey made you pass both a written and driving test before you could get a license just like today. Washington state was a bit more casual in the early 1920's when they only made you sign a paper that said you were a safe driver. No exams required. By 1935, 39 states issued driver's licenses but most of those did not require you to drive to get them. The last state to join the others and require a driving exam was North Dakota in 1959. I guess what all of this early history means is that it may have been entirely possible for Archie to have only learned to drive yesterday and be driving a car he owned the next day. And if you know Archie, he may have needed a little more experience before he set off on his own. But then I guess, there would be no story. :)

When I learned how to drive, I had to pass a written exam to get a learner's permit and a driver's test that required the dreaded parallel parking to get a official license. When I went to take my driving test, I was very nervous about the parking, but hoped for the best. My tester for the day got in the car with me and told me to drive down the road. (In our area, we had no official driving course, you just did what the policeman said.) It was a curvy two lane road which was typical for the area. After a little of this, he asked me to pull off into a gravel parking lot at a church and turn around. That was it. No three-point turns, no parallel parking, just an easy turn and back down the road to the police station. It was as simple as that and I had my license. I don't know whether the policeman was tired or I looked like I knew what I was doing, but I realize that I got lucky that day.

By the time my sons were getting their driver's licenses, things were a lot different. After getting the learner's permit, they had to log a lot of hours of different kinds of driving. Testing took place at a course designed to test various driving skills including the dreaded parallel parking. What I thought was really smart was the parking was the first thing on the course. If you couldn't do that, you immediately failed and didn't take up any extra time on the rest of the test. I thought that was a good efficiency measure on the part of the testing center.

So what did you have to do to get a driver's license?


What to know some more details about licensing?