Driving is a Right -- Not a "Privilege"
By John Cornell
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
Sighting past the hood and down the road, I aim at the horizon.
Trigger-like, the feel of the accelerator under my toes is comforting
as I contemplate the forces within my hands. Fires unleash from
exploding dinosaurs under the head gaskets and other fires burn in my
belly. I shift, mesh, punch and hurl myself and a metallic metric
ton bullet-like down the sight-path of asphalt, as the adrenalin rush
slaps me into the realization that my mind and body are one, and my
fire-driven chariot is an extension of that integration.
Then the other "reality" sets in. The firepower become sluggish
and heavy in my grasp, as if gravity sucked me into a black hole.
Reminders plague me: Do I have my license? Is the registration
up-to-date? Have I paid all my fines -- and gasoline taxes?
Driving is a peaceful activity enabling transportation for
purposes of fun or profit. Libertarians rarely discuss the
regulation of this activity that most of us engage in every day.
Anticipating the joy of acceleration, you can't leave your driveway
without the thrill being shattered by the first speed limit sign,
traffic officer or speed-control camera. A non-violent, normal human
activity is distorted into a bureaucratic nightmare of "a boot
stamping on [your] face -- forever" -- as Orwell said in 1984.
As libertarians, we assert the principle that government has no
right to be in any business and has no right to restrict or regulate
any activity people choose to pursue. Yet government at every level
has instituted a monopoly to control driving. It was during the
pubescence of governmental regulations known as the "Progressive" Era
(the Civil War and Reconstruction were its temperamental Terrible
Two's) that the automobile made the unfortunate timing of its
appearance. In 1902, New York was the first state to issue car
licenses, as the first step on a thousand light-year journey that led
to totalitarian ownership of the roadways.
Automobile registration is the same as gun registration. Forcing
us to register automobiles and licensing us to drive proceeds from
what right? The government has just taken them, thanks to the left
that hates automobiles and the pragmatism of the right that wants
mercantilistic subsidization ("Driving may not be a right, but 'free'
Privatization of roadways has been suggested, with some attempts.
But why would you want to make such an investment as long as it's
"free" now and you don't get tax relief? And who'd want to drive on
them under the same conditions? Some racket!
Take speed limits. (Yes, take them.) They're like income taxes
in that they punish achievement by penalizing drivers who are able
and willing to get somewhere, and reward incompetent drivers by
encouraging inattentiveness and disregard for the right-of-way of
oncoming traffic. Another in a slow parade of victimless crimes.
Speed per se does not kill -- these other factors often associated
with it do. We're herded into tight lines of collective cattle where
our speed is determined by the weakest link in the chain of traffic,
the vehicle with the least velocity becoming the slowest common
denominator. The answer? "Defensive" driving versus "offensive?"
How about diligent driving?
Rights-of-way are real, based on centuries of human custom. Speed
laws are a legal fiction with capricious and arbitrary enforcement.
My own city of Fort Collins, Colorado, recently installed Orwellian
speed and red light cameras to nab fast drivers and red light runners.
Our state legislature is trying to pass a law to prohibit such
devices. But cities intend to fight such laws, contending that "home
rule" protection gives them the right to keep the pesky intrusions
into our privacy. Perhaps I can contend that I have "self-rule" and,
therefore, the actions of all governments are null and void.
As to drunk driving laws, "implied consent" supposedly means my
"inaction" or "silence" implies that I've "willingly" agreed to the
suspension of my Fourth Amendment rights to be "allowed" to drive.
What if I proclaim that I haven't consented to such nonsense?
As long as we have public control of the streets and highways
we'll be lied to that driving is our "privilege." And the Bill of
Rights are "given" to us by government, to be withdrawn without
There needs to be a free market for all transportation. All
pavement needs to be privately owned and operated. Then you'd be
able to negotiate the services from the owners, who'd then have the
right to manage your activities while you're on their property. But
there would be competition, as alternate routes are usually available
between two points. Imagine a paid security officer giving genuinely
friendly driving advice instead of a revenue-raising, gun-toting
"public servant" with his jackboot planted on your bumper, demanding
that you sign a "promise to appear," with all the fire and brimstone
of Big Brother ready to back up his demands? New customers would be
welcome on the roads as long as they paid -- you wouldn't have the
current asininity of the bureaucrats whining that they have "too many
users" as they refuse to accommodate our needs and leave the roads
poorly-run and overcrowded. As Rand said through John Galt, "Get the
hell out of my way!"
Until then, the government has no right to prevent you from using
your roads. You may drive as you wish, but need to respect the
rights-of-way of others and accept responsibility for violations you
make. Driving is as much a right as free enterprise, and owning a car
as much a right as owning a gun. Though you don't have a right to
taxpayer-provided roads -- just as you don't have a right to have
people trade with you -- you have the right to pursue such trade.
The next time you see red lights in your rear-view mirror or spot
the flash of the roadside Evil Eye, remember the lyrics of Neil Peart
of Rush, in their paean to speed, the song "Red Barchetta": "I leave
the giants stranded / At the riverside."
John Cornell is a finance professional whose personal goal is to spread
rational, Objectivist and libertarian ideas by writing and publishing
libertarian science fiction and literary novels, stories and articles and
occasional pieces of political satire and humor.