Do I legally need a driver’s license?

Here is a question I received and answered on the now-defunct website AllExperts.com:

I read title 18 section 31 and it clearly says that a motor vehicle is for commercial purposes. Like for a truck driver that is carrying goods, passengers, or a cab driver that is getting money. Now what I don’t understand is why the state I’m from requires me to get a license when is not for commercial use. Why is that?

Okay, let me see if I can get to the heart of this.  You live in Massachusetts, yes?  And you’re wondering why you have to get a driver’s license, because U.S. Code in Title 18, Section 31 defines a motor vehicle as, “The term “motor vehicle” means every description of carriage or other contrivance propelled or drawn by mechanical power and used for commercial purposes on the highways in the transportation of passengers, passengers and property, or property or cargo”.  So, if the U.S. government defines in law a motor vehicle as having a commercial purpose, then why should you need a driver’s license to operate a non-commercial car in MA?  Is that the heart of it?

Juan, nice argument, but you’re forgetting a critical piece of the puzzle.  The United States is a carefully-constructed partnership between a federal government and the governments of the individual states.  The U.S. government does not currently regulate non-commercial vehicle operators in any way – that power is granted to the states.  The U.S. Code you’ve cited applies only to commercial vehicles crossing state lines – interstate commerce.  That’s where the federal government takes over.

All 50 U.S. states require by law that their citizens have a driver’s license to operate a motor vehicle.  The actual requirements for obtaining one vary from state to state.  The requirements to obtain a Class D (passenger cars) learner’s permit and driver’s license is available via the link below.

Hope this helps!

References:

http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/uscode/18/I/2/31 (relevant U.S. Legal Code)
https://secure.rmv.state.ma.us/PolicyBrowserPublic/PolicyBrowser.aspx?turl=WordDocuments/Transactions/classdpermit.htm (MA Registry of Motor Vehicles)

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