Hooniverse Asks- Should Driving High-Performance Cars and Trucks on the Street Require Additional Licensing?

It’s well known that half the world wishes for less government intrusion in their lives while the other half consistently bemoans that there ought to be a law. When it comes to cars and driving, there sure are a lot of laws and regulations on the books, so many in fact that you might think twice about just pulling out of your driveway if doing so isn’t absolutely necessary. Despite that, I’m wondering if – for the greater good – we don’t need at least one more to keep us all safe.
In case you haven’t noticed, Chrysler has introduced a pair of cars recently that each offer more than 700 horsepower. That’s not in some million dollar Q ship available only to people who know Paris Hilton on a first-name basis, instead, either can be picked up by pretty much anybody with a decent credit score and a few grand in the bank. That, in my opinion, is pretty damn scary.
Consider if you will that most of us get our driver’s license while in our teens and that little sliver of plastic gives each and every one of use the right to drive with impunity pretty much anything from a 28-horsepower 2CV to the aforementioned 700-pony Chrysler. Now, you might just want to ask Paul Walker if he thinks that seems right. Oh wait, you can’t. What I want to know today is what is your opinion on having a graduated licensing system. Do you think that drivers should have horsepower or performance tiers for which they must demonstrate competence before they can legally get behind the wheel and put themselves and the rest of us in danger?
Image: MJSite.com

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  1. pj134 Avatar

    Performance and weight class should have separate endorsements. Also, those endorsements should be easier to lose. I’m glad you feel safer in your 5500 lbs suv, but I’d feel a lot safer if you were driving a 1600 lbs less XC70 while being on your cell phone and drinking a coffee.

    1. I Think Not Avatar
      I Think Not

      This man speaks sense (sorry, best I can do until we get our plusses back!).
      To expound and rant — can we get rid of the coffee in the car already? Wake up 15 minutes earlier and enjoy your cup of joe at peace in a recliner like a civilized human so you’re not still waking up as you pilot your 3-ton monstrosity at superlegal speeds in the fast lane while continually and hamfistedly correcting to avoid painting the jersey barrier with your fender and doors.

      1. ptschett Avatar

        Several years ago, during a job transition and before I was able to move closer to the new job, I had a 90 mile commute that was mostly complete by the time the sun rose. The coffee in the car was much safer than dozing off would have been.

      2. Hammer Avatar

        My 3 ton monstrosity and my coffee are my f-ing business much in the way that what you watch on TV, what you keep in your refrigerator, what websites you visit, and how much you exercise are your business.
        Tiered licensing sounds great until we get the unintended consequences. How about no high performance parts on street vehicles? How about repairs made only by government certified mechanics? Tax by the mile is a real possibility too.
        Bottom line is more personal responsibility is what needs to be encouraged rather than more buerocracy.

    2. potbellyjoe Avatar

      I think the multi-tier endorsements make sense. We need to recognize that regardless of the electronic nannies that are so prevalent in our machines, they still are deadly when improperly handled.
      Large vehicles, different drivetrains and levels of performance should all be taken into consideration when driving. I think it’s time some of those found their way to our endorsements.
      So set tiers of performance for power-to-weight A,B.C,C+ where A is an underpowered people mover, B is the adequately powered people movers and C and C+ get into performance vehicles.
      Then have numeric codes that follow weight class when 1 is sub-3000, 2 is sub-4000 and 3 is 4000-5000 and 4 is 5000+.
      Make them attainable in any order, you won’t need seat-time in A1 to get B2, etc. understanding that families own cars in these categories and it may be a first car.
      Only require seat time for C+ and class 4. You can’t get them without a driving course.
      That way when Sarah SoccerMom goes to buy her Honda Pilot, she has to take a road test to show skills.
      Then let’s add that the C+ and Class 3-4 endorsements are only good for 5 years before you have to complete another road skills test. B and C is a 10 year renewal.
      It would never be allowed, but it would at least impress on people that bigger, or stronger cars are also potentially more dangerous.

    3. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
      Peter Tanshanomi

      I am afraid that without thumb-up-able-ness, you’re all going to have to endure a great deal more of my annoying predilection for reaction gifs and image macros.

      1. Jeff Glucker Avatar
        Jeff Glucker

        I wish Reddit offered a commenting system would could just snag.
        We’re still reviewing new options, but at least we have our image posting back.

        1. potbellyjoe Avatar

          We can just move the entire Hooniverse to Reddit. Haha. I (partially) kid.

  2. Kamil Kaluski Avatar
    Kamil Kaluski

    That’s not a bad idea, after all, large vehicles do require a special license. Someone will say that this stomps on their freedoms, to which I would say that we need to stop handing out driver licenses to anyone with a heartbeat.

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      That cuts to the core of it. Proper training for everyone* and the problem is sold.
      (* would include driving in traffic, day/night, city, countryside, freeway, skidplates and icy conditions, basic correction skills and at least one hour of practical training – changing tires, checking fluids, RTFM skills like changing bulbs)

  3. I Think Not Avatar
    I Think Not

    Many states already have a graduated licensing plan in place, right? Why not just expand that to power:weight ratio requirements that relax as you gain years of experience. Make the steps at 5-year intervals based on when you get your license, perhaps?
    Sorry little Jimmy — you may think you have a right to get a 400+hp pony car on your sixteenth birthday, but my right to make it home alive trumps yours in this instance. I have exactly zero interest in getting tangled up with you on the highway as you change lanes too quickly, overcorrect, and spin wildly out of control through 5 lanes of traffic on your way to the ditch or the jersey barrier.

  4. Scoff Law Avatar
    Scoff Law

    Having lived in Germany for two years and still having family there, I can say that getting a license in the U.S. is as easy as pulling the prize out of a Cracker Jack box and about as inexpensive; I don’t necessarily believe that we need graduated licenses based on vehicle performance as much as we need to step up our overall driver educational requirements, people here (in the U.S.) tend to take the privilege of driving for granted due to the ease and relatively inexpensive license fees such that there is no incentive to drive as if your license depended on it.
    There way too many people who drive inattentively, fail to follow the rules of the road and drive even when their privileges have been revoked or suspended, etc… Getting a driver’s license in Germany is a complex and expensive process, once you’ve gone through driver training and the bureaucracy to get your license issued you have paid anywhere from $750 to $1,500; and woe is you if you are caught doing anything more that the most petty of offences as most infractions incurred there will have you standing in front of the man and explaining yourself to a rather serious and humorless judge (this happened to my cousin who spend a considerable part of his early driving career riding the Nike Express) need I say more…
    I would say that the biggest problem in driver training here in the U.S. is that we focus too much on teaching people how to color inside the lines and don’t devote enough time teaching people how to handle unusual situations, if you learn how to drive a car under the worst sort of circumstances (such as snow, ice, bad roads, etc…) then you are more likely to be capable of handling an unruly or high performance car when it tries to get away from you; driver’s ed cars should be more like those DUI simulator cars that show people how drinking and driving affect driver performance, it’s all about experience and our driver training standards leave most driver’s woefully inexperienced in controlling an unruly or high performance vehicle.

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      This. Even with a relatively thorough education, driving on your own is scary to begin with. But people have, at least, heard how to work a car and react to certain situations.

    2. Tiller188 Avatar

      I’m in the “improve general drivers’ ed” camp, as well. I can see the sense in a weight- or power- graduated scheme, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it would end up needlessly complicated and labyrinthine, not to mention open the potential for all sorts of lobbying/tax breaks/fee breaks/insurance hikes etc. that would make the whole thing overly political. That, and even a Tata Nano at 60 mph can cause an awful lot of damage, or start a chain reaction that would. Raising the overall license requirements bar has the twin benefits of being relatively easy to enforce (same standards across the board, therefore unambiguous and fair) and being, if anything, overkill: if everyone on the road has car control sufficient to handle, say, either a Corvette or a moving van in inclement weather, we should be safe enough if those same people are driving a Corolla or Quest or something.

  5. Lokki Avatar

    A nice idea but horsepower licensing, at least, would be unenforceable. I see no practical method of preventing “driving without a license”. Also note that since it would hard for Congress (although God knows they stretch it to the very limit) to argue that driving a high horsepower car has to do with “interstate commerce”. Therefore you would have to do it state by state.
    The last time the horsepower wars got out of control, it was the insurance companies that stepped in to move cheap horsepower out of reach of the average guy, but that didn’t have as much effect as quickly soaring gas prices.

    1. I Think Not Avatar
      I Think Not

      If you behave yourself while driving and handle your vehicle competently, avoiding wrecks, you’re right that there’s no way to really enforce driving with inadequate licenses. But I think you’re right in that insurance companies raising rates through the roof on inexperienced drivers with high performance cars will regulate it.
      Sure, drive daddy’s new Hellcat, but get yourself in to any situation where you get a traffic ticket, wait for that ticket to be reported to your insurance company, then answer seriously for allowing your live-on hormonal wreck to pilot a vehicle capable of kissing the double ton. If they don’t drop you (happened to my folks when I got a ticket for 25 over and lost my license in a Geo at 18), your premiums will triple (happened after I got my license back six month later, so I got a Saturn because the Geo was too expensive).

  6. skitter Avatar

    I think there the previous comments get right to the point: drivers are trained to operate, but not control their vehicles. In addition to fixing that, I’d just go one step further and have people get re-licensed for each new car they buy. Then they would know what it takes to control it, and be on the hook for loaning or renting their car to someone irresponsible.

  7. bhtooefr Avatar

    I’ve long been a supporter of graduated licensing of vehicle types, although I typically looked at it from a weight angle, rather than a power angle. Ultimately, I do think absolute weight is a figure that should be included in the graduated licensing (after all, a F-250 at 25 mph is far more dangerous than a Geo Metro at 25 mph), but power-to-weight is a useful figure too.
    I shouldn’t be able to take my test of driving around the block and through a very simple cone course in a 49 hp Geo Metro XFi, and then turn around and get in a Hellcat (or, when I wrote a blog post about this on my own blog, my example was a Veyron or a 26,000 pound truck).

  8. Maymar Avatar

    Around here, the Porsche Cayenne or ML63 AMG being piloted at approximately 1km/h under the speed limit, usually in the middle lane, is far more common than it needs to be. I don’t feel particularly threatened by the presence of these drivers, I don’t think they’re about to do anything stupid they couldn’t also do if their SUV was powered by an asthmatic hamster on a wheel. That said, I wouldn’t object to extra testing for high performance vehicles if only because that’d force auto makers to make their most profitable offerings comfortable and luxurious, like the hoon-apathetic really want.
    That said, I do side with restricting untrained drivers from physically larger vehicles. Hell. I’d settle for holding our drivers to the same relatively rigorous training and testing expected of motorcyclists, instead of managing to make it around the block without writing a car off.

  9. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
    Peter Tanshanomi

    Tiered licensing won’t mean a thing if it’s the sub-mediocre rubber stamp most driving tests are in the US. Now, if they were like Japanese motorcycle skills tests…
    (for those who aren’t familiar with what I’m talking about, Imajust leave these here…)

    Obtaining a License
    byu/Quasic inRideitJapan


  10. Devin Avatar

    Where I live there’s a “good driving reward” thing, where every year you don’t get into any kind of accident you get an insurance discount. I’ve figured that could be adapted to what vehicles you can drive. Each point higher, you can get a bigger, more powerful car if you want. Each point lower, you’re increasingly restricted – and at a certain point you need retested.
    So, first year drivers would be at zero and restricted to say, Hyundai Elantra power to weight ratio – just thinking of something incredibly neutral. Then, as they get more experience, they could get increasingly powerful things until they get up to the highest rating. Each accident or traffic infraction that causes point deductions would add limits.
    Also everyone who buys a heavy duty pickup truck would be required to drive to the nearest grocery store and park it between the lines. Since I think 1 in 10 can actually do it the automotive makeup in my area would change dramatically.
    I’d agree driver education programs should be better – everyone needs a field trip to a controlled environment where they can learn how snow and ice works, especially people in Texas who get ice once every five years and thus all kill themselves when it happens – but I don’t think frequent testing is the answer, just because it’s a ton of resources.

  11. dukeisduke Avatar

    I have a Malibu Grand Prix license, form visiting the Houston location in 1979. I kept it in my wallet for years, just a joke.

    1. dukeisduke Avatar

      Dang, I just realized there’s no edit capability.

  12. Batshitbox Avatar

    Having to display one of these prominently on any vehicle you drive draws the particular attention of law enforcement. I think it’s a good way to go.
    Everyone is supposed to obey the same rules of the road, right? So what privilege does a special horsepower license get you? I think it would give people a sense of entitlement. “Oh, it’s okay for me to accelerate wildly and take chances, I have a special license to do that.” No thanks.
    We’ve had a class system in motorcycles for a while, based on engine size. So a 500cc V-4 Two stroke like the Yamaha RZ500 was as accessible as a Kawasaki EX500. Brilliant.

    1. ptschett Avatar

      I’d add cylinder count tiers to work around that situation… something like this for 4 strokes, and halve the displacements for 2-strokes…
      600cc+: no more than 1 cylinder
      400-600cc: no more than 2 cylinders
      250-400cc:no more than 3 cylinders

  13. Hoondavandude Avatar

    No. You can’t fix stupid. A person who makes a poor decision in a Hellcat is likely going to make to make the same decision in a lesser car…or even with an additional license endorsement. I like the idea of a manufacturer mandated training video explaining the risk of driving a RWD car. Kudos to companies that include on-track training with a new car purchase.
    What I would much rather see is a tiered licensing system that takes into account your driving experience/training and the capabilities of the car you’re driving. There are certain time when I think it would be reasonably safe for a driver with good judgement to drive +90 miles per hour on the interstate, when traffic and weather allows. Drivers with a high-speed interstate endorsement could have their car inspected and its high-speed stability evaluated. Upon passing a driver’s test and vehicle evaluation, one could receive a bright yellow sticker that can be placed in the upper corner of the windshield (visible by law enforcement). Unfortunately, too many people would exercise poor judgement and wind up creating more accidents by passing at high-speed on the right or other unsafe behaviors. THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS!

  14. jayp2112 Avatar

    Drivers need to be more responsible. That’ll never happen.
    I drove the autobahn a few times. It was a marvelous experience. Everyone obeyed the speed limit and drove on the right to let faster cars pass. Respect for driving. Excuse me while I day dream about that experience again.
    What was the question?

  15. wunno sev Avatar
    wunno sev

    if i’m not mistaken, Australia has restricted licenses for the first several years of owning a car – nothing with a turbo, V8, etc etc. mostly based on qualitative factors, i think.
    i kind of feel like kids will crash anything violently, no matter how slow, but i haven’t seen the numbers from australia’s program.

    1. dr zero Avatar
      dr zero

      We have a “provisional” licence (P-plates) for the first few years after obtaining a licence. Folk on P-plates are restricted to what they can drive and even how many passengers they can have. I’m not too sure what the restrictions are (I went through my Ps in the pre-restriction days).

  16. ptschett Avatar

    I think the current license tiers are fine, on cars. There are already situations where a person may need a CDL to legally operate some combinations of a heavy trailer and a 3500-class pickup.
    It might be worth adding tiers on motorcycles, though. Too many people seem to think their 1st motorcycle should be the one they’ll ride till the end of their life, then make it a self-fulfilling prophecy wheelying that 600cc supersport into the nearest building/bridge abutment/SUV/etc. while wearing nothing for protective gear beyond some cool sunglasses.

  17. Sjalabais Avatar

    Just for entertainment I was looking into what teenagers pay for a license in Norway now, found a very recent forum thread – and went into a state of shock. The lower ceiling is 20000 NOK, but many pay more than 55000 NOK. With the current strong dollar, we’re talking about 2600-7300$!

  18. mechimike Avatar

    Nice idea in concept, but hard and expensive to enforce. Also, since most of the US lives in areas not served by any sort of useful public transportation, owning and driving a vehicle is more of a necessity here than in much of Europe.
    Costs alone will generally dictate what people drive. I could easily afford a Hellcat, but I won’t because I’m not dumb enough to shuck out 70 large for a transportation device and I don’t want to pay the gas and insurance bills. Then again, I do own an F350 crew cab long bed (used only for towing and hauling), so I could theoretically be rolling down the road at 75 per in a rig tipping more than 8 tons with nothing more than a card that says I can parallel park a mid-sized Olds.
    Anecdotes abound of rich kids wrapping ‘vettes around telephone poles at a buck-thirty, but honestly just better driver training for everyone and mandatory refresher courses (all with real seat time, not just doodling around some residential neighborhood at 20 mph) periodically, along with a mandatory training and license classing for towing a trailer or driving anything larger than a Suburban would go a long way.
    Oh, and make cupholders or touch screens anywhere within the reach of the driver illegal.

    1. Vairship Avatar

      Graduated licenses based on car performance don’t seem to solve much, as I’ve only ever seen one car crash due to too much horsepower (and in that case, the problem solved itself as the speeding and weaving 911 smashed into the Jersey barrier just a quarter mile after zooming past me).
      A much bigger problem is people failing to look out the windshield, or being unable to make decisions in traffic (I see both of those on a daily basis).
      However, until Southern California gets decent public transportation, they’ll have to keep putting a free driver’s license in every cereal box.