I believe we can all agree that there is no reasonable argument that anyone has the right to drive without a drivers license. The states have been granted in several court cases even up to the supreme court. The state has the power to regulate interstate, and intrastate transportation, and commerce.

So when it comes to people saying that they have the right to travel, we can all agree that they have this right guaranteed in the constitution. However, the problem comes along when they try and say that they have the right to operate, or drive a motor vehicle.

Initially, I thought that this was a ridiculous and frivolous argument, until someone asked me to define the following terms.

transportation motor vehicle vehicle drive owner operate

In standard English, we all know exactly what the law states, and what the courts have decided.
However, when using the LEGAL definition of these words. I do see an argument.
That argument being that all of these words' legal definition refer to commerce, and that none of these words actually apply to the individual not engaged in commerce.

The question I'm trying to understand is if the common-law right to travel can be applied to a person driving a car, or rather I guess the statement would be made that the transportation code does not apply to individual citizens who are not actively engaging in commerce. , but with the definitions coming from U.S. statutes, case law and blacks



(2) “Commercial Motor Vehicle” means a motor vehicle other than a motorcycle, designed or used primarily to transport property.

(13) “Motor Vehicle” means a vehicle that is self propelled (16) “Owner” means a person who: (A) holds the legal title of a vehicle (B) has the legal right of possession of a vehicle: or (C) has the legal right of control of a vehicle. (24) “Vehicle” means a device in or by which a person or property is or may be transported or drawn on a public highway, other than a device used exclusively on stationary rails or tracks. Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 165, Sec. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1995. Amended by Acts 1997, 75th Leg., ch. 625, Sec. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1997. Amended by: Acts 2005, 79th Leg., Ch. 586, Sec. 2, eff. September 1, 2005. Common Carrier – Black’s Law Dictionary (6th ed. 1990 at 275). A common carrier is “[a]ny carrier required by law to convey…freight without refusal if the approved fare or charge is paid…”(Commerce) Common Carrier – Black’s Law Dictionary (8th ed. 2004 at 275). A carrier that is “generally required by law to transport…passengers or freight, without refusal, if the approved fare or charge is paid(commerce).”

Contract Carrier – Black’s Law Dictionary, at 325 A contract carrier is a “transportation company that carries, for pay(commerce), the goods of certain customers only as contrasted to a common carrier that carries the goods of the public in general.”

Driver – Black’s 3rd One employed(commerce) in conducting or operating a coach, carriage, wagon, or other vehicle, with horses, mules, or other animals, or a bicycle tricycle, or motor car, though not a street railroad car. Driver – Black’s 4th One employed(commerce) in conducting or operating a coach, carriage, wagon, or other vehicle, with horses, mules, or other animals, or a bicycle, tricycle, or motor car, though not a street railroad car. A person actually doing driving(commerce), whether employed by owner to drive(commerce) or driving(commerce) his own vehicle. Driver – Black’s 6th A person actually doing driving, whether employed by owner to drive or driving his own vehicle. Traffic(commerce) – Bouvier’s (1856) Commerce, trade, sale or exchange of merchandise , bills, money and the like. Traffic – Black’s 3rd Commerce; trade; sale or exchange of merchandise, bills, money, and the like. The passing of goods or commodities from one person to another for an equivalent in goods or money. Senior v. Ratterman, People v. Horan, People v. Dunford, Fine v. Morgan, Bruno v. U.S. (C.C.A.) Transportation – Black’s 4th The removal of goods or persons from one place to another, by a carrier(commerce). Transportation –Black’s 6th The movement of goods or persons from one place to another, by a carrier.

Transportation – 49 U.S.C. Sec. 5102(12) “transports” or “transportation” means the movement of property and loading, unloading, or storage incidental to the movement.(We now see ANY of these words refer to TRANSPORTATION which has been defined as commerce)

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that: Undoubtedly the RIGHT of locomotion, the RIGHT to remove from one place to another according to inclination, is an attribute of personal liberty, and the RIGHT, ordinarily, of free transit from or through the territory of any state is a RIGHT secured by the Fourteenth Amendment and by other provisions of the Constitution. See:Williams v. Fears, 343 U.S. 270, 274 “Generally “public road” is road used by public as matter of right.” See; Atchison Transportation & Shipping F. RY. Co. v. Acosta, (Civ. App. 1968) 435 S.W.2d 539 ref. n.r.e.

Transportation is Commerce, which IS a REGULABLE activity.

  • Where do you read these "definitions" that only relate to commerce?
    – Ron Beyer
    Jan 29 '19 at 17:48
  • 3
    It's not clear what your actual question is.
    – brhans
    Jan 29 '19 at 17:48
  • This argument is totally flawed, and succumbs to the same problem as any argument that tries to get around the requirement of a driver's license to be driving on public roads.
    – Nij
    Jan 29 '19 at 18:25
  • Is this a U.S. specific question or is this just a general legal question?
    – hszmv
    Jan 29 '19 at 18:36

Very few terms have a single "legal" definition or meaning that applies to all laws, and can be looked up as if in a dictionary. Rather, when a specific meaning is needed in connection with a particular law, that law will include a definition. But that definition will often not apply to the use of the same term in other laws or other contexts.

Here I suspect that the OP has found the definition section of a US Federal law regulating commercial transport in interstate commerce. Obviously in such a law, those terms would be defined in the context of commercial transport. That does not mean that the same meanings will be applied in other laws. Driver's licenses and other traffic and motor vehicle regulations are largely matters of state law in the US. Definitions from a federal law, or indeed any law but that state's Motor Vehicle Code (or whatever a given state calls such a body of law) will simply not be relevant. The argument sketched in the question simply does not follow.


First, the right to travel is not specifically enumerated in the Constitution. The right exists under the Privileges and Immunity Clause which states "The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States." Since Corfield v. Coryell, 6 Fed. Cas. 546 (1823) freedom of movement has been captured by this clause. In Paul v. Virginia, 75 U.S. 168 (1869) the Court defined 'freedom of movement' as "right of free ingress into other States, and egress from them" and has consistently held that this is a duty of the States, not the Federal government.

However, the court has never guaranteed a particular mode of travel and the ability of the states to charge licence and registration fees for motor vehicles has been specifically dealt with in Hendrick v. Maryland, 235 U.S. 610 (1915):

A reasonable graduated license fee on motor vehicles, when imposed on those engaged in interstate commerce, does not constitute a direct and material burden on such commerce and render the act imposing such fee void under the commerce clause of the federal Constitution.

A state may require registration of motor vehicles, and a reasonable license fee is not unconstitutional as denial of equal protection of the laws because graduated according to the horsepower of the engine. Such a classification is reasonable.

The reasonableness of the state's action is always subject to inquiry insofar as it affects interstate commerce, and in that regard it is likewise subordinate to the will of Congress.

A state which, at its own expense, furnishes special facilities for the use of those engaged in interstate and intrastate commerce may exact compensation therefor, and if the charges are reasonable and uniform, they constitute no burden on interstate commerce. The action of the state in such respect must be treated as correct unless the contrary is made to appear.

A state motor vehicle law imposing reasonable license fees on motors, including those of nonresidents, does not interfere with rights of citizens of the United States to pass through the state.

Imposing conditions on operators of and on motor vehicles themselves (or any other type of transportation) does not offend the Constitution provided they are reasonable.

  • What about the right to travel freely within a state?
    – phoog
    Jan 29 '19 at 22:46
  • @phoog Why would the Federal government be involved in that? Their purview is interstate relationships.
    – Dale M
    Jan 29 '19 at 22:57
  • Certainly the 14th amendment asserts federal power over the states through, among others, its own "privileges or immunities" clause. The federal government has long had an increasing amount of power over an increasing number of matters that do not fall strictly within the realm of interstate relationships. But the main reason for my question isn't to establish the scope of federal law, but from the asker's standpoint: does the driver's license requirement infringe on a right to travel from, say, a home in Reno to a job in Las Vegas?
    – phoog
    Jan 29 '19 at 23:22
  • @phoog OK, I understand. The case didn't consider it because Hendrick was not a resident of Maryland. However, given that the federal power comes from the rights and privileges clause the right across states must mirror the right (or lack of) within any given state.
    – Dale M
    Jan 30 '19 at 1:38

As explained by @DaleM the correct analysis is to look at how the relevant phrases and used in the context of the court cases creating the judicially created constitutional right to travel.

In practice, if there is some reasonably feasible means by which a person can travel to a state, then the right is not abridged. But, if a state created legal barriers to travel beyond those inherent in physical reality that deprived someone of all reasonably feasible means to travel to a state (e.g. a law banishing anyone who has ever been convicted of a felony from entering the state), that would probably be struck down as unconstitutional.

Like almost all rights, of course, the right to travel is not absolute. It doesn't, for example, prevail of the obligation to serve a prison sentence.

  • "The right of the citizen to travel upon the public highways and to transport his property thereon, either by carriage or by automobile, is not a mere privilege which a city may prohibit or permit at will, but a common right which he has under the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."- Thompson v Smith 154 SE 579. Feb 7 '19 at 14:32
  • "The right to travel is a part of the liberty of which the citizen cannot be deprived without due process of law under the 5th Amendment." -*Kent v Dulles, 357*U.S. 116, 125. Feb 7 '19 at 14:33
  • @billylee258 in Thomson v. Smith, the case is about whether the chief of police had exceeded the authority granted by ordinance. The court did not consider whether the city has the power to require driving permits. Rather, the opinion takes for granted that it does have that power. Kent v. Dulles has nothing to do with driver's licenses, and that statement about the right to travel is precisely subject to the point made in this answer: an unconstitutional deprivation of the right to travel would have to be far more restrictive than a state-imposed licensing requirement for drivers.
    – phoog
    Feb 7 '19 at 16:36
  • Like almost all rights, of course, the right to travel is not absolute. It doesn't, for example, prevail of the obligation to serve a prison sentence. Yes, I was agreeing with you here, it is a right, which cannot be deprived, WITHOUT due process of law, so yes, a convict has obviously lost that right. Feb 7 '19 at 17:45

Under New York State law, as an example, the definitions of none of those terms implicates commerce or excludes noncommercial concerns:


Not defined by statute. Dictionary:

means of conveyance or travel from one place to another.

This has nothing to do with commerce.

motor vehicle

S 125. Motor vehicles. Every vehicle operated or driven upon a public highway which is propelled by any power other than muscular power, except (a) electrically-driven mobility assistance devices operated or driven by a person with a disability, (a-1) electric personal assistive mobility devices operated outside a city with a population of one million or more, (b) vehicles which run only upon rails or tracks, (c) snowmobiles as defined in article forty-seven of this chapter, and (d) all terrain vehicles as defined in article forty-eight-B of this chapter. For the purposes of title four of this chapter, the term motor vehicle shall exclude fire and police vehicles other than ambulances. For the purposes of titles four and five of this chapter the term motor vehicles shall exclude farm type tractors and all terrain type vehicles used exclusively for agricultural purposes, or for snow plowing, other than for hire, farm equipment, including self-propelled machines used exclusively in growing, harvesting or handling farm produce, and self-propelled caterpillar or crawler-type equipment while being operated on the contract site.

Certain commercial vehicles are excluded from this definition, and others are not, but noncommercial vehicles such as personal automobiles are certainly included.


S 159. Vehicle. Every device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, except devices moved by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks.

There is no mention of commerce.


Not defined by statute, but "driver" is:

S 113. Driver. Every person who operates or drives or is in actual physical control of a vehicle....

This is plainly not limited to commercial contexts.


Not defined by statute. Dictionary (as a transitive verb):

to cause to function

This has nothing to do with commerce.


You write "none of these words actually apply to the individual not engaged in commerce." As counter examples, I offer the following:

  1. Alice's favorite form of transportation is her old Yugo.
  2. Bob's first motor vehicle was a gift from his mother.
  3. Carol's favorite vehicle is her boat trailer, because she loves to go fishing.
  4. Dave frequently drives around in the country to smell the freshly plowed fields.
  5. Ellen just drank a beer, so she would rather not operate her car, and she is walking home.

No commerce there, either.

  • Alice's favorite form of transportation(commerce) is her old Yugo. Bob's first motor vehicle(commerce) was a gift from his mother. Carol's favorite vehicle(commerce) is her boat trailer, because she loves to go fishing. Dave frequently drives(commerce) around in the country to smell the freshly plowed fields. Ellen just drank a beer, so she would rather not operate(commerce) her car, and she is walking home. No commerce there, either. (REALLY?) Feb 7 '19 at 14:42
  • "It is clear that a license relates to qualifications to engage in profession, business, trade or calling; thus when merely traveling without compensation or profit, outside of business enterprise or adventure with the corporate state, no license is required of the natural individual traveling for personal business, pleasure and transportation." Wingfield v. Fielder (1972) 29 CA3d 213. Feb 7 '19 at 14:51
  • @billylee258 regarding your first comment, the point of this answer is to show that there is nothing inherently commercial about any of those words. Rebutting the answer by stating that the words are inherently commercial is simply begging the question. Instead, if you wish to challenge the argument, you may want to explain the basis of your (incorrect) assumption that the words are inherently commercial.
    – phoog
    Feb 7 '19 at 16:15
  • @billylee258 Regarding your second comment, the text you quote does not seem to appear in that decision (neither at findlaw nor at justitia), but the case concerns a license "for the operation of an aircraft for the application of pesticides by air." This activity is far more likely to be commercial in nature than, for example, driving to the park.
    – phoog
    Feb 7 '19 at 16:18
  • I apologize, but If you READ the original post, all of the words that you defined using ... WEBSTER? When defined by statute, Black's or Bouvier's are very different. We all know that you can say something in english, and it mean something completely different when defined in legal terms. The rebuttal is the fact that you proved this very point by using common english language, which has no legal merit, proves nothing. Rather I would argue the original question which is that just because people use these words in everyday life, doesn't give them the definition that the common person thinks. Feb 7 '19 at 17:13

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