The first driver licenses: DOL History File, 1917-1921

March 1, 2010

By Tony Sermonti

The first state laws that started formally licensing drivers came in 1917, when the minimum age to drive was set at 15. Then in 1921, the state started to get more serious about licensing drivers as more motorcars began to hit the streets. Washington’s ninth Governor Louis Hart created the Department of Licenses.

Beginning with the creation of the Department of Licenses, driver licenses were $1 per year, required ten days of driving experience and two signatures verifying that the driver was “experienced, careful and free from any infirmities or personal habits that would impair his ability to drive safely.” The funds collected from license sales went toward funding the newly formed Highway Patrol, now known as Washington State Patrol.

If a driver violated any of the few motor vehicle laws there were at the time, a judge could suspend the license by issuing a blue license. If the holder of a blue license violated a law, they were then issued a yellow card, the equivalent of today’s three-month suspension.

Traffic and vehicle laws saw no significant changes until 1937, when the Legislature enacted sweeping policies governing rules of the road, vehicle and equipment standards and driver education and testing standards.

More on what happened in 1937 in the next installment of the DOL History File.


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