Q: I have a friend who is applying for his “right to conduct himself in his personal capacity,” also known as a State National. He’s convinced that once he jumps through all the necessary hoops, he’ll be able to get a new car from the dealership and that he needs no driver license, license plates, or registration. Is this true?
A: Good luck even getting a test drive without a license. If your friend is deeply invested in this idea, showing him this article probably won’t change his mind. But if he was willing to listen, here’s what I’d say:
People believe a lot of things. Not all of them are true. Some false beliefs are relatively benign. For example, unless you’re pursuing a career like astronaut or satellite engineer, believing the earth is flat probably won’t have much real impact on your life. You might get nervous about sailing too far in one direction, but other than that it’s mostly just enduring the flat earther jokes.
But some of the falsehoods being perpetrated can have a direct impact on your life. If you believe that as a State National you can drive around without a driver license or vehicle registration, eventually you’ll have an encounter with the legal system. And the constitutionalist website that took your money and submitted your forms to the “proper agencies” won’t be there to back you up in the courtroom.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, State National, or American State National, is a term used by sovereign citizens and some QAnon adherents to refer to themselves, reflecting their belief that they are not citizens of what they perceive is an illegitimate, tyrannical federal government.
The law can be tough to understand; even lawyers aren’t experts on all of it. You wouldn’t hire a patent attorney to handle your divorce, and you wouldn’t hire a real estate lawyer to defend you in a criminal case. Even more, you shouldn’t trust the advice of people who have no stake in the outcome of your life for legal advice that has very real consequences.
It’s easy to type in all caps on the internet about how people need to see the truth and refuse to submit to the driving requirements of the state. You can choose to believe them, but your level of belief is irrelevant if the judge or jury disagrees with you, and they’ll have the US Supreme Court backing them up. I’m no better equipped to give legal advice than the websites that “help” you become a State National, but at least I won’t charge you to fill out any fake paperwork.
This isn’t just about aspiring State Nationals, though. There are consequences to unlicensed drivers that extend beyond the individual. In Washington, less than 8% of drivers are unlicensed, but those drivers are involved in 15% of all fatal crashes. Said more simply, unlicensed drivers are twice as likely to be involved in a fatal crash. And 81% of unlicensed drivers in fatal crashes didn’t have insurance.
Part of getting a driver license is proving that you have the knowledge and skills to safely operate a vehicle. Our roads are a shared space, and piloting a multi-ton projectile is the biggest risk most of us take on a regular basis. That risk extends beyond the driver and to everyone else using the roads.
The state has both a right and a responsibility to maintain a safe transportation infrastructure for its residents, and that includes licensing requirements. If you look at the federal cases on the states’ rights to regulate traffic, you’ll see that the primary motivating factor is safety.
The right to travel is affirmed in the Constitution. But the Constitution doesn’t guarantee you the right to a specific mode of transportation. If you refuse to get a driver license, you’re welcome to ride your horse.
Doug Dahl is the communications director for the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.