Law does not require driver license, despite attorney claim

Sheriff Jim Hammond speaks before the county commission. He enforces Tenn. Code Ann. § Title 55, focusing on transportation, upon the citizenry even if those users of the road are not involved in transportation (trucking, shipping, freight). (Photo David Tulis)

Sir, you say Tenn. Code Ann. § Title 55-50-301 is a law that requires people on the road to obtain a driver license before putting foot on gas pedal and steering a car onto the tarmac and out into the open way.

By David Tulis / NoogaRadio 92.7 FM

But the law doesn’t do that. It does not create a blanket liability and duty on all who would use the public roadway for private travel. 

Let’s look at it.

[This post is part of a correspondence with Phil the attorney in Hamilton County. He believes I’m wrong about your rights and wrong about the law. Here is the first iteration of our correspondence about your situation.]

Your position is essentially as follows. Driving is not a right, it is a privilege. Everyone who has a car or truck and intends to use it on the roads to go from Point A to Point B must apply to state government for a taxable privilege. Without the privilege and proofs of taxes paid for that privilege, it is illegal and unlawful to be there on the road, moving down it in car or truck. It is a crime and violence against the peace and dignity of the state to be on the road without the state’s permission.

No ban on use of the street by traveling public

The state regulates transportation, the commercial use of the roadways. There’s no disputing that. You agree with that. I agree with that. Title 55 is constitutional as written. As written, it does not offend the rights of the people nor their liberties. We agree thus far.

But the law nowhere says that one who is a member of the traveling public is forbidden from using the public street. 

You say that the state’s liability statute / ban on use of the roads is Tenn. Code Ann. 55-50-301. 

But the law regulates drivers of motor vehicles. Drivers of motor vehicles are people who are operating for hire as carriers, either as common carriers or private carriers. They are required to have a license. 

For a liability statute, it’s pretty open ended, Phil. The law has in its focus “every person applying.”

55-50-301. License required — Requirements — Exception — Applicability to temporary licenses and permits.

(a)  Every person applying for an original or renewal driver license shall be required to comply with and be issued a classified driver license meeting the following requirements:

(1)  No person, except those expressly exempted in this section, shall drive any motor vehicle upon a highway in this state unless the person has a valid driver license under this chapter for the type or class of vehicle being driven;  [emphasis added] ***

Again, the law applies to “every person applying.” A person applying for a privilege lays aside his rights so he might have something he deems better. He wants a special favor from the state and its department of safety and homeland security. He wants  to use the public road as his place of private profit and gain, and wants the privilege because no one has a right to do that.

“No person *** shall drive any motor vehicle upon a highway in this state unless that person has a valid driver license.” The license is required to “drive *** a motor vehicle.” These are commercial terms, as established in the definitions at 55-50-102.

Phil, the people of Tennessee in their private activities are not in view of this provision. This law is the starting point for your whole thesis. As I have suggested, your argument is really just magic and faith in some mystery power the state has that lets it lord it over the free people by squeezing free activity into commercial licensed activity.

The only people subject to it are those who have brought themselves within the scope of the statute by seeking to use (for private profit and gain) the roads “open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel” (definition of highway, 55-50-102). They approach the state and apply. They fill out the form, pay the fees, meet the requirement and so have the privilege of using motor vehicles in transportation.

The people subject to the 301 license requirement are those subject to the “uniform classified and commercial driver license act of 1988” as a whole. As you start reading the definitions of this chapter, Phil, you cannot escape its commercial scope. It is exclusively upon those who are using the roadways commercially.

Where do these rules come from? To whom do they apply?

55-50-202. Establishment of rules and regulations.

(a)  The commissioner is authorized to establish administrative rules and regulations concerning the licensing of persons to operate motor vehicles, in this state, for the purpose of ensuring the safety and welfare of the traveling public. ***

(b)  *** The rules and regulations shall be promulgated in accordance with the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act, compiled in title 4, chapter 5. [Emphasis added]

Private v. public

The state fulfills its public health, safety and welfare requirements in the exercise of police power by protecting everyone on the road from the traveling merchants — the truckers, bus operators, haulers, flat-bed truck operators, 18-wheel tractor rigs, dump trucks, wrecker services, Uber and Lyft operators, and many others. All users protected. But, most importantly, the people themselves. The common people, the citizenry. The rules serve in “ensuring the safety and welfare of the traveling public,” as it says.

The most widely cited supreme court case is Hale v. Henkel, 1906. It highlights the existence of private life, private activity. These are not subject to the state. 

“[W]e are of the opinion that there is a clear distinction in this particular between an individual and a corporation, and that the latter has no right to refuse to submit its books and papers for an examination at the suit of the state. The individual may stand upon his constitutional rights as a citizen. He is entitled to carry on his private business in his own way. His power to contract is unlimited. He owes no duty to the state or to his neighbors to divulge his business, or to open his doors to an investigation, so far as it may tend to criminate him. He owes no such duty to the state, since he receives nothing therefrom, beyond the protection of his life and property.

“His rights are such as existed by the law of the land long antecedent to the organization of the state, and can only be taken from him by due process of law, and in accordance with the Constitution. Among his rights are a refusal to incriminate himself, and the immunity of himself and his property from arrest or seizure except under a warrant of the law. He owes nothing to the public so long as he does not trespass upon their rights.”

Phil, this list of rights of the individual is talking about you and me. Our wives and children. About all kinds of people who are private people, private users, exercising their rights. In private activity, we are not subject to the police power, to tax power, to regulatory power.

If you have a right to go to church, or an election rally, or a lunch meeting to talk with a client (communication, free speech), do you have a right to get there? In your theory, you cannot get there freely. But only commercially, by privilege, through a state privilege. If your daughter has a right to abortion, do you think she can exsercise this right only by getting the permission of the commissioner to get into her car and go to the clinic up in Tri-Cities? A right is a right, and the means of exercising the right are protected by its bright penumbras. 

Or are they not? How far in your theory are you willing to go to deny free exercise of rights, and at every turn insist on your “reasonable” regulations? On free speech. On freedom to train children. On free movement. To jail and criminally prosecute people for exercising their rights, as the state does to thousands of innocent noncriminal people committing no sin before God, is itself criminal. Banning the free use of the road is a tort and a wrong, and inequitable. I propose to stop it at equity.

Seeking attorney to push back abuse

To say you have a right to free association, but in your theory you have to stay at your house, or walk 10 miles to a diner. You deny rights a priori, and I ask you, Phil, if you understand the concept. 

I am looking for an attorney to take on this system of abuse, using my unrebutted and legally accepted transportation administrative notice to be able to assign bad faith malice to police actors we sue for damages, either in chancery or district court.

Have you read my notice, good sir? You won’t be wasting your time. It tells the true state of the law in Tennessee. I will be using it to overturn an evil, racist, unjust system upheld for decades by the bar and the courts. It has not been rebutted by those people who have a duty to respond and to obey the law.

I fully recognize that the courts of appeal deny and reject this position. I’ll leave for another time that discussion about judicial supremacy. But the people have rights under the constitution, and at equity, to be free from abuse and from judicial policy that is unconstitutional and seemingly unappealable. My project fully recognizes the zero percent likelihood of courts of appeal changing their mind. They won’t.

I have developed a proper defense in court in criminal cases that demands from the officer proof of commercial activity. He has no such evidence in ANY traffic case of his having obtained that proof of privilege. Ast the state enforcement is premised on commerce, it is through commerce and proof of commerce I propose to overturn the state’s system of Jim Crow and violation of our rights. It can be done in criminal court. It can be done by plaintiffs in civil.

There’s more to say. But for now, I challenge your understanding 55-50-301 and solicit your interest in taking the offensive vs. the status quo.


  1. Jeff Kelly

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