Needing a license to drive in the US...how did this start?

I’m not even sure how to Google this, so I thought I’d ask the great SDMB!

A hundred plus years ago, most personal transportation was by horse or other simpler means. I’ve never heard any reference to this form of transportation being regulated or controlled by the individual states, though I’d love to be proven wrong.

How did it come about that the states felt the need to regulate automotive travel? It was just another form of transportation, slowly replacing the horse. Now states issue licenses, inspections of vehicles in some states, and things like that. Was this change safety motivated? Fee motivated? And how did it become universal across the states and in many other countries as well?

I do understand the need for basic traffic laws, even with horses. I just don’t know how the states managed to get control of a person being able to use a vehicle, and what legal precedent they had for doing so.

Thanks for any insight!

Mostly motivated by increased numbers of road accidents

http://www.ehow.com/about_5552087_history-drivers-license.html

Thanks, that explains it!

I think the article contradicts itself. It says licenses were born of a need to regulate dangerous driving because of accidents, then goes on to say early licenses were generally mail ordered for a small fee without any kind of testing.

What I understood was that they were motivated as a means of raising funds. My grandfather got his license by paying for it, without demonstrating any skills or knowledge at all. Trying to deal with accidents and safety came decades later.

From your cite:

They forgot to mention that you don’t have to pass the test, just take it :rolleyes:

That’s not inconsistent. Even without a test, driver licensing could promote safety. Licenses made it easier to track repeat offenders, and opened up the possibility of license revocation for repeated offenses. See this New York Times atricle from 1907. I can’t cut and paste from a PDF, but the article proposes stamping each violation on the license itself.

From just casual observation, it appears the vast majority of drivers these days are using their 1908 licenses.

Karl Benz, of Mercedes-Benz, basically invented the driver’s license in 1888 by requesting one. He wanted to be able to drive around in his car but the folks of his day were annoyed by the noise and exhaust. He went to the authorities and asked for a document stating that he was allowed to drive his car on public roads, and got one!

Prussia had the first tests and vehicle requirements in 1903.

The NY Times article Freddy The Pig linked mentions the German and French systems were used as a model for the US.

My father told me he never had to take a test to get his license in the 40s, he just went and filled out the forms and got it. No driver’s test, no written test, no eye test.

My mum said the same.

I recall my mum saying later on she had to take all the tests when she got them renewed but my father said, he had never taken any test other than the eye test. He took that at a renewal. He died in 1976.

I don’t know if this is true or not but that’s what he claimed anyway

I wonder about that 'cause on a lot of old TV shows, it’s like the character takes one driver’s lesson (usually from the husband with typical hilarious results) then it’s announced she got her license