Sell the right to speed, suggests a minor candidate for the Nevada Governorship. (h/t Professor Reynolds.) The plan as outlined has a lot of deficiencies, starting with the fact that, if it’s really designed to generate revenue, the real money’s in selling such permits to transients. But the big deficiency is that it doesn’t think big enough.
My proposal is based on the structure of concealed-carry firearms licenses. The way those work, in most States, is that the applicant takes a class designed to teach him or her not to pull dumbass stunts with the gun. Armed with proof of satisfactory completion of that course, the applicant pays a fee and gets the permit. Evidence that this is a good way to do it comes from the fact that you have to run the statistics out to three decimal places to get gun crimes by CCFL holders to show.
Start with a course in high-performance driving, such as are offered by AMG, Bondurant, and many others, modified to focus more on day-to-day driving skills than on what to do on the race track. Add to that a detailed inspection of the vehicle by a graduate or teacher from such a school, to include actually driving it on a course designed to simulate common traffic hazards. With course completion certificate and inspection results in hand, together with the results of a medical examination certifying that he or she is unlikely to have a heart attack or other sudden problem while driving, the applicant then pays a fee and takes a real driving test on a course very similar to — perhaps the same one as — the one used for the vehicle inspection.
At this point we are head and shoulders — more like waist high — above the typical driver and vehicle. We know the vehicle is in good condition, and that the driver is healthy and knows what the f– he or she is doing behind the wheel. The permit issued is then prominently stamped with “U” for “unlimited”.
There would be several qualifications. At the top of that list: “Unlimited” is actually a misnomer. The driver and vehicle would be licensed to maintain a safe and reasonable speed according to road and traffic conditions. Yes, that means he or she could let the Countach out to its maximum on a lonely Western Interstate — but it also means dropping the heaviest hammer possible on a licensee who blows by traffic at 55 in the first misty rain for the last few months, because no combination of vehicle and driver can overcome the greasy combination of accumulated road oils and moisture, and DUI by a “U”-license holder should be a capital offense. Not that anybody who actually knows driving would do such a thing; that’s reserved for idiots who think having a supercar, four-wheel drive, and/or special tires exempts them from the laws of physics.
Both license and inspection would have to be renewed annually. The cost of the initial license would be designed to defray the costs of the driving test; subsequent renewals would then be pure revenue, except for periodic repeats of the driving test designed to insure the driver hasn’t forgotten how to do it. Vehicle inspections would have to be repeated often enough to insure that it was properly maintained — yearly, at least. How often to repeat the medical certification would depend on the driver’s age and any known medical conditions. This is almost identical to the requirements for a private pilot’s license, and why not? A pilot operates a high-powered machine under circumstances allowing for severe harm to people not involved — a crash in a residential area could mean the deaths of people who’ve never seen an airplane up close before — so the requirements are stringent but manageable.
Whether or not to issue such things as RFID or other identification tags is a matter of implementation. Most driver’s licenses today have machine-readable codes already. A new RFID tag-type could be produced and affixed to the vehicle; it would have a slot into which the driver would place the license, and requests issued to it would return both vehicle and driver ID. Police vehicles equipped with readers would then be able to easily separate the sheep from the goats — especially the relatively common case where Junior (who doesn’t have a “U” license) takes somebody else’s Corvette or Maserati for a high-speed spin.
The State issuing “U” licenses should do so to all comers, although they might charge a premium for out-of-state drivers, and drivers entering the State might have to stop at the roadside rest entry station to pick up a current tag. This would be a revenue windfall for places like my home State, Texas. It is farther from Texarkana to El Paso than it is from Texarkana to Savannah, and much farther than it is from El Paso to Los Angeles — get a map and look it up. Many people who regularly make trips across country would gladly pay a sizeable premium for the ability to, e.g., look at San Antonio in the rear-view mirror and “put the pedal to the metal”. I-10 between the 410 loop and the El Paso city limits is not driven, it is endured, and it would be worth quite a bit to minimize the duration of the torture. I-20 west of about Abilene is no better. The idea would be most attractive, and therefore most profitable, in States with long stretches of boring road — Texas, California, and Tennessee come easily to mind (I don’t know about Florida; my experience suggests that everybody effectively has a “U” license there) — but almost every State south and west of New York has roads where it might be worth it, and the Empire State itself harbors a few.
I reckon the first State to implement the notion would find the entire staff of the TV program Top Gear and of every car magazine on the planet lined up outside their licensing offices the next morning, with cash in hand. It’d be a seller’s market, with few limits on the fees that could be collected.
The idea might be refined by involving manufacturers. Tires already have speed and load ratings which certify them for use under certain conditions. Car makers could rate their vehicles similarly, whereupon the inspection would involve an authorized service station certifying that the vehicle had been maintained according to the makers’ instructions and still met the requirements for that rating. I can see a magazine coming out, styled simply “(Y)” — a Y-rated tire is certified for 300 km/h or 186 MPH; parentheses around it indicate that it was tested above 300 km/h, without specifying how far above — and dedicated to “unlimited driving”. There wouldn’t be many manufacturers willing to slap a (Y) rating on their cars, but the ones that did could add quite a bit to the price tag.
Objections from police regarding having to investigate high-speed crashes in remote areas can be dismissed out of hand. The whole point of this system is the driving course and test, with refreshers — the people who got licenses under the scheme would know what they were doing, and would be driving cars capable of doing what was wanted. As noted before, holders of concealed-carry licenses are overwhelmingly not involved in gun crime, because they know what they’re doing with the machine, including when and where using it is or is not appropriate. The same would be true of “Unlimited” driving licenses; they would overwhelmingly not be involved in accidents, high speed or otherwise, except where other drivers are either stupid or malicious. So why not?