June 26, 2010

A license to drive

Having recently gone through the anxiety of preparing for an examination to get my driver's license renewed, I immediately appreciated the following column written by Lorraine Collins. As visitors to this site well know, Lorraine is a Spearfish neighbor who writes regularly for the Black Hills Pioneer newspaper. She graciously allows us to use her material on Black Hills Monitor.
I stopped in at the drivers licensing station recently to check on all the new requirements to get or renew a South Dakota driver's license. When I read of everything I would need to prove I am who I claim to be, I was really glad that my license is good for another three years and that my passport doesn't expire for four years. With a passport, at least I won't have to try to find my birth certificate and marriage certificate.

Several other things will be required, though, because of new rules that came into effect last December as the result of federal regulations. I believe this is the result of the fact that the driver's license has commonly been used for identification in various business transactions including the purchasing of airline tickets. This has led to some catastrophic events in our recent history. So I guess it makes sense to say that people getting a license to drive must demonstrate that they are who they say they are and live where they claim to live.

This does mean a lot of inconvenience. In addition to the Identity Document, we need to provide proof of a Social Security number and two documents to prove our residential address. These might be utility bills, rent receipts, phone bills, bank statements, and so forth.

People who have changed their name over the course of a lifetime, such as women who chose to use their husband's name after marriage, need the marriage certificate to show why their name is different from their birth certificate. Later, if they get divorced and revert to their previous name, they have to bring the divorce decree to their next licensing session. A rather ominous note in the instructions says that "If you have had multiple marriages you will need to bring similar documents providing legal proof of each name change." That's certainly an incentive for long term monogamy.

I learned to drive before South Dakota required a license to drive. It may surprise many people to know that South Dakota was the last state in the union to require a driver's license, not doing so until 1954. The actual driver's license examination wasn't instituted in South Dakota until 1959. I remember those pre-driver's license days because it was very awkward to be in some other state and not have a valid driver's license. All I could say if some law officer asked to see my license was, "Uh, I'm from South Dakota." I finally went to visit my sister in Colorado, drove her car and passed a driver's test in Denver. I therefore had a driver's license with a completely bogus address. So I do understand the desire of the government to know that drivers actually live where they claim to.

When we left the U.S. to move to Singapore my husband and I had International Drivers Licenses based on being licensed to drive in South Dakota. When we moved to London three years later we used our International Drivers Licenses for a while but eventually---I'm not sure why---I thought it would be a good idea to get an English license. Amongst Americans it was said that the Brits didn't like giving us drivers licenses and no American we knew had ever passed the test. I thought that was a challenge.

I studied. I drove with a driving instructor. I showed up for the test properly meek and humble with a big "Student Driver" sign on the car roof. I did everything the manual told me to do no matter how dumb I thought it was, including putting on the parking brake at every stop sign. At the end, the instructor said he thought I'd been overly cautious, so he wanted to know how long I'd been driving.

"Thirty-six years," I said. He burst out laughing and gave me the license. That license was good until I was 70 years old, but I suppose the British have changed things by now, too.

Lorraine Collins is a writer who lives in Spearfish. She can be contacted at collins1@rushmore.com.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had been driving for 40 years when I failed the Kentucky driving test. I was thrown by a "turnabout" which is a 3-point turn-around everywhere else. I could have skipped the one item and should have.
I've never been at-fault in a collision and hadn't had a moving violation for 39 years (43 in a 35 mph zone when 16), yet had to take the whole test over again over a 3-point turn! bob.trent@bobmail.info