Seattle Space Needle Reflection at Night

The Scarlet Letter

Downtown Seattle, Washington

Downtown Seattle, Washington

Washington State is currently debating a law that would require people who are convicted of drunk driving to have the letter “Z” appended to their license plates.

I would like to go on record as stating that not only do I support this law, but I am offering to buy this law a condo, a car, and I will give it a healthy monthly clothing allowance. Hideous drivers are becoming more of a problem with each passing day, and something simply needs to be done.

Now look, I’m not going to lie, I’ve been guilty of this offense. Once, after “two sips of beer”, while driving 100mph+ in the rain, my car hydroplaned, spun around several times, and flew off a steep embankment into an offset median.

Sitting there, in a ditch, wondering what to do, I did the first thing that came to mind. I turned the key, and the car started right up. Somehow, someway, I managed to negotiate the car back up to the road, at which point I just drove home.

How did I escape major injury?

I don’t know. Maybe Jesus really does love me, but that’s not the point.

My point is that it’s waaaaaaay too easy to get a driver’s license in this country. I was a kid who had just gotten a permit (using a friend’s address out-of-state where the driving age was lower), and the only thing I had to do to get it was drive around the block a couple of times while some obese government worker sat in the seat beside me dozing off.

Contrast this to another license I pursued shortly thereafter … a pilot’s license for a single-engine aircraft. This was no joke. I had to ride for hours upon hours with an instructor by my side, and “mistakes” were not a luxury afforded to me.

Here’s something I never understood:

In order to fly a 100HP aircraft at 70Mph over 100 miles of deserted sand, you need hours of expensive instruction. Even though, if you crashed, the worst thing that would happen is that you took a cactus out with you.

If you crashed a single engine aircraft and survived, your license would be immediately suspended pending an extensive review by the FAA and the NTSB, and you would be lucky to ever fly again.

The same FAA review would happen if you overshot the runway by 10 feet or disobeyed the orders of an air traffic controller. For all intents and purposes, you cannot be a shitty pilot and expect to retain your license.

Okay, now let’s assume that you want to operate a 300HP SUV down crowded city streets at 45mph+, mere inches from other vehicles and pedestrians.

The licensing requirement to do this must be really difficult, right? After all, it is infinitely more dangerous and requires a much higher degree of attention and focus than flying an aircraft in the relatively empty skies. You would be operating the SUV in extraordinarily crowded spaces with very little tolerance for error.

If you thought a pilot’s license was hard to get, getting permission to operate this more powerful vehicle in close proximity to innocent bystanders is surely almost impossible.



The great irony of American culture is that anyone with an IQ of 60 or above can simply take a written test until they pass (which could be done by randomly filling in circles), go through the motions of taking a “driving test”, and obtain a license to drive more or less any vehicle they want, anywhere they want.

Oh, and they are allowed to make mistakes. Lots and lots of mistakes. Points are subtracted and cursory fines are given for recklessly endangering the lives of … well, pretty much everyone. What is the difference between running a red light in a 3,000lb vehicle, and closing your eyes while discharging a shotgun on a street corner? As far as I can tell … nothing. Maybe you’ll hit someone, maybe you won’t. But the former will get you a ticket, whereas the latter will get you put in jail.

What is even more ridiculous is that Americans seem to like this system, although they would go completely ballistic and call for the head of any pilot who failed to heed a traffic pattern instruction or caused a near-miss with another passenger aircraft.

So, why do we all tolerate this situation? Why do we hand out licenses to people who we know have not been properly tested? Why do we give permission to people to go out and slaughter others with 5,000lb bullets?

The same reason we do everything else. Money.

Governments love the revenue that licensing, registration, and traffic fines bring in. They depend on it. Collecting these fines is 90% of what police officers do (heroes!). They also love the sales and property taxes that accompany automobile purchases.

The insurance industry loves easy licensing because they have a mandated customer base, and the worse a driver technically is (think 40 in a 35 zone), the more profit they can make from that driver. My mother-in-law was recently ticketed for rushing me to the hospital, and when it came time to remit the fine, the government offered her a bribe proposition:

1) Pay more to the government and keep the ticket a secret from the insurance company and keep the points off of her license;
2) Pay less, get outed to the insurance company and get bad-driving “points” on her license;

Are you beginning to see the picture?

So long as my mother-in-law continued to bribe the government, she could drive as dangerously as she wanted, for as long as she wanted, and nobody would be the wiser. Licensing has absolutely nothing to do with safety. Nothing at all. The government does … not … care if you are killed or maimed, they just want the money.

The legal industry loves easy licensing because pain and suffering is where they make their profit, and the medical industry loves it for the exact same reasons.

Last but not least, beneficiaries of cheap labor depend on easy licensing so their minimum wage workers can get to the corporate plantation on time. A prompt slave is a profitable slave, and let’s face it, Hector’s always late when he rides the bus.

Strict automobile licensing would ruin the American economy. Just stop it dead in its tracks. Were it not for horrendous drivers, our nation as we know it might collapse.

Therefore, when I am crossing Pike Street, and some lady in an Acura blasts through a red light without looking and almost runs me over … I know why she does it. She does it because she can. She does it because, even were she to hit me, the worst that would happen is that hubby pays a few more dollars next month for insurance.

There is a reason that people spend so much money on automobile cockpit diversions. Stereos, GPS sytems, text messaging, beer, weed, and now video monitors. People treat driving like a joke because it IS A JOKE. Poor driving is actually encouraged in the USA. It’s a profit center. It’s part of the culture. People laugh about their fender benders and swap stories about their speeding tickets. I’ve heard many women openly admit to being bad drivers (“Oh, I know I’m a bad driver, but look at me I’m cute.”) then hop in their car and drive away.

This is why, in my opinion, anything, and I mean ANYTHING that we can do to discourage bad driving should be openly embraced. Remember, the next victim of the “tee-hee, look at me, I’m just a girl and I get buzzed from one beer” driver may be your mother, your wife, or your child.

Not only do I think that people should get a scarlet letter for drinking and driving, I think they should get similar letters or different colored license plates for striking pedestrians or being at-fault in an accident.

If the government and law enforcement will not protect use from these automotive predators, the very least they should do is give us this one small tool so that maybe, just maybe, we can protect ourselves.

4 comments to The Scarlet Letter

  • Not a Hater

    …who the hell wants to go out, have a few, then have someone come get them, then go thru the hassle of getting a ride back to your car.

    Keith: there are these things called TAXIs which will drive you anywhere for a nominal fee, if public transportation is inadequate or unavailable, or if you just think you’re too good to hop on a bus.

  • signboy

    they already do this in minnesota, our license plates usually have 3 letters and 3 numbers, but if you’ve had a 2nd dwi your plates have a “w” with 5 numbers after it. we jokingly reply to them as “whiskey plates” due to the “w”

  • keith

    i say they should make drunk driving more “accessible” for those who can do it well.

    if you’re drunk, you should be able to do it if you drive with your hazards on, your dome light on, and drive in the right lane under the speed limit. that will be the international symbol of “i had a few, but i can still drive, so you watch out for me.”

    the reason why people drive drunk is out of inconvenience – who the hell wants to go out, have a few, then have someone come get them, then go thru the hassle of getting a ride back to your car.

    i’m not talking about fall down drunk – i mean a few beers, legally intoxicated but still able to function. i can have several beers and drive a hell of a lot straighter than i can if i try to text and drive just 3 or 4 consecutive letters without looking back up

  • coolpacific

    Couldn’t agree more. I will just add that the training to drive a transport truck is equally egregious. Again, because the money is so poor you have to make sure that the people willing to take those jobs can meet the requirements.

    Maybe with the coming of $200 oil, we will finally start building railways again and get those rigs off the roads altogether.

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