IBJOpinion

HICKS: Getting a driver's license in five not-so-easy steps

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Mike Hicks

What follows is an honest and faithful account of one man’s odyssey in obtaining an Indiana driver’s license. This story has been scrupulously fact-checked, and any resemblance of the subject to the author is wholly coincidental.

Arriving in this fair state in 2007, this citizen expected a simple process of obtaining an Indiana driver’s license. He had been licensed in Indiana 15 years earlier, and had previously been licensed to drive in six other states and two countries. His driving record was nearly exemplary; the only legal impediments involved modest disagreements involving optimal travel speed, which were resolved the usual way.

This citizen sought only the most simple of driving licenses, enough to attend to the matters of work and delivery of children to school. He had been previously licensed to drive an M1 Tank and various smaller-tracked and -wheeled vehicles. Obtaining an Indiana license, he thought, would be easy. It was not.

Presenting himself to the proper authorities, he expected to take a driving test and obtain a license. He brought a U.S. passport, a military identification card, a valid out-of-state license, proof of residency, and other materials. Unfortunately, this was insufficient. He did not have, in his possession, the flimsy Social Security card he had received in fourth grade, in 1971.

Months later, after two visits to the Social Security office (which required far less proof of being), our citizen again approached the authorities to take a driving test. He was unable to get a license, though, because he failed the written test. Despite recognizing all the signs and laws, he did not know how long it takes a semitrailer to stop.

Frustrated, this law-abiding citizen approached the license branch yet again with all necessary material and yet again failed the written test by mistaking the interpretation of two triangular signs. (During this visit, the waiting-room TV featured the embarrassed test-taker talking about the economy.)

On his fourth visit, this hopeful driver received a perfect score on his written test, but still could not obtain a license. You see, our intrepid citizen could not use his Indiana automobile registration as one of two proofs of residency. Finally, on trip number five (not counting two to the Social Security office) and following a perfunctory eye exam, a temporary license was issued. But the experience wasn’t all bad. Throughout the process, the customer service was absolutely exemplary. It wasn’t merely good or above average, but incredible—fast, cheerful and informative. The operation was a marvel of efficiency.

Clearly, this driver was an imperfect specimen, as citizens will often be. He did not study the rule book, and so bears sole blame for twice failing the test. Those onerous identification burdens are the result of federal rules that handcuff state license procedures, not just badly written Indiana law (for that, see ID requirements to buy a beer).

The real problem was that nowhere, at any time, did anyone even ask whether this citizen could actually drive a car.•

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Hicks is director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at cber@bsu.edu.

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