Getting serious about traffic laws: DOL History File, 1937


The State Patrol administered driver exams in the 1930's.

The State Patrol administered driver exams in the 1930's.

By Tony Sermonti

After the first driver licenses appeared in the early 20’s, Washington got serious about laws for public roads and drivers in 1937.

Chapter 188 and 189, Laws of 1937, was the Legislature’s first foray into a set of comprehensive motor vehicle laws. That may be because states with standardized license laws saw vehicle-related death rates decrease by 25 percent from 1926 to 1933.

Among many other things, the law specified that in order to drive, one must have an operator’s license in “current and valid condition in his possession.” It also laid out specific medical and vision standards, including prohibitions against those who were deemed “habitual drunkards.”

In that day, the Department of Licensing appointed State Patrol troopers to administer driving tests, after the 25 question “mental examination” was passed. That’s another story altogether.

The origin of today’s current driver information database also starts in 1937. The law established a central record system, based on a letter size cardboard case record which could be folded and placed in a file cabinet. The records contained the name, physical description, date of birth and whether the license had ever been suspended or revoked.

And to get an idea of how quickly things were moving, in the 20 years from 1905 to 1925, vehicle registrations grew from 763 to nearly 350,000 each year.

2 Responses to Getting serious about traffic laws: DOL History File, 1937

  1. why do I have to leave my name says:

    Thanks for the information on the history of the agency.

  2. DOL Blog says:

    You’re welcome!

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