Clarksville, Tenn., patrolmen stop a traveler, presumably with probable cause. (Photo Clarksville police department)

Clarksville, Tenn., patrolmen stop a traveler in a car, presumably with probable cause. (Photo Clarksville police department)

Let’s briefly solve a mystery.

How is it that state government has authority over people using the public right-of-way in cars and trucks for which they have paid for with their own money?

By David Tulis

How is it that police power can be exerted over individual users of the road who are not committing any crime?

How is it that everybody on the road today is subject to the executive branch of state government or to its agents in police confrontations?

The mystery is solved by considering the following.

Since our governor today, Bill Haslam, has no inherent authority over the innocent use of the public right-of-way by innocent people, he must have gained authority over them subtlety. Within his executive branch of the state, he does it by contract, application and agreement. He does it through the driver license process.

The application, contract and payment are yours.

Tennessee driver licenses are through the commercial driver’s license act which was passed just before World War II. Under it and under several court opinions we are told that we must have a driver’s license to use the public road. When we apply for a driver’s license we do the following: We enter into commerce and we admit by application that our purposes in traveling are in commerce. Our travel is not free and protected, but privileged and result of a state favor. It’s not free, it’s subject to regulation.

By application your teenage son admits under the commercial driver’s license statute he is a carrier. Like he, we admit that we are — for profit — hauling goods or people and that we are for hire. We are in commerce by our own admission and by our approaching the state to ask for a driver’s license.

The commercial driver’s license statute at TCA 55 – 50 – 301 clearly is voluntary. Just read the statutory language. To get back to our original question: How is it that state power exerts itself over innocent people using the public right-of-way the people’s roads?

It is by an expansion of the executive branch’s authority through commerce via the department of safety and homeland security and under the benefit and privilege of application by each user of the road who applies for a driver’s license.

Without an expansion of commerce under regulatory authority, the state would be unable to set or enforce any of the rules of the road, and would have to leave safety of travelers to common law principles (the doctrine of corpus delecti, or injury) and the courts. That prospect would appear dangerous and chaotic to those who support the modern state and its regulatory pretenses. Maybe even anarchy.

The positive alternative to state regulation of travel would be private mechanisms to allocate responsibility in accidents, and public courts. These would adjudicate all claims when loss or damage occurs. The free market, in other words. The alternative allows for liberty and the exercise of constitutionally guaranteed rights, and remedies for all grievances caused by crashes, losses and negligence. Cops would have no authority to touch any traveler unless he had actually hurt someone.

Our day’s system follows the insurance model, where the state tries to pre-empt accidents and damage by subjecting all travelers to its police action and the legal bluff that no teenager or Mexican newcomer to Tennessee is free to use the public right of way as a matter of public right.

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