Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. All wonderful things, and all guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. They are such important rights, with such a vast scope, that we sometimes think that everything we do falls under them.

Not driving.

Driving is a privilege, not a right. We hear this again and again, but it doesn’t always sink in. People complain after a DUI that their “right” to drive has been taken without due process because they were automatically suspended.

What does it mean that driving is a privilege?

  • It is the result of an agreement you signed, not your citizenship. When you’re born in the U.S. or are naturalized, you automatically have the rights outlined in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. You may hold property, you cannot be imprisoned without trial, or searched without a warrant or probable cause.  Those, and other constitutional rights, are yours simply because you’re a citizen. But to obtain driving privileges, you need to sign an agreement that stipulates what your obligations are beforehand, and pass the required tests.
  • It requires certain skills and behavior. You don’t need to know the words to the Miranda decision in order to have Miranda rights, but you do need to know how to change lanes and parallel park in order to drive.
  • It can be revoked. Certainly there must be a process before your privilege can be taken away, and courts and legislators are constantly debating that process. But the fact remains that certain actions will allow the authorities to withhold the privilege to drive, or impose limits or restrictions such as an ignition interlock for a DUI.

What about my human rights?

Every once in a while someone brings up article 13 of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees every person freedom of movement within a state. That declaration has nothing to do with the mode of travel, which states and countries can regulate as they wish. As a matter of fact, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled, in 1999, that there is no “fundamental right to drive.” You can still travel in a car or truck anywhere you want, provided someone with a proper license is driving.

Americans have more trouble with the idea of driving as a privilege because driving is such a vital part of life in this country. But it is because driving is so embedded in American life that it must be made as safe as possible. That means licensing drivers and ensuring that they stay sober and focused on the roads.

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