Driving licence: Mercedes-Benz Museum Inside No. 13/2020

Driving licence: Mercedes-Benz Museum Inside No. 13/2020

Aug 14, 2020
  • The official driving licence goes almost as far back as the car itself
  • Document granting mobile freedom
  • “33 Extras”: Exhibits of motoring culture at the Mercedes-Benz Museum

Stuttgart. 160 vehicles and a total of 1,500 exhibits are presented in the varied permanent exhibition of the Mercedes-Benz Museum. The “33 Extras” are a particular highlight: they can bring the history of personal mobility and motoring culture to life using details that are often surprising. The Mercedes-Benz Museum Inside newsletter series draws attention to the “33 Extras” and focuses on their background stories. Today’s edition is all about the driving licence.

13/33: Driving licence

1 – Benz: Carl Benz, the inventor of the car, was probably the first ever person in history to be granted a driving licence – even if, back then, a document by this name had not even been developed yet. However, in as early as 1888, the Mannheim district office in the Grand Duchy of Baden granted him permission to “run test drives with the patent car he produced”.

2 – Worldwide: The German Empire officially introduced the driving licence as a certificate for “charioteers’ fitness to drive” in 1909. In the UK, the Motor Car Act, adopted in 1903, made ownership of a driving licence mandatory from 1 January 1904. In the US the first states introduced the licence in as early as 1903 and in France, where the car was popular particularly early on, driving licences were already a requirement in 1899. That first year saw the issuing of almost 1,800 driving licences in the Paris region alone. By the way, using horse and cart did not require a licence and the driving licence for horse-drawn carriages has only been mandatory in Germany since 2017.

3 – Lessons: Nowadays, you need to take lessons and get through a theoretical as well as a practical test before you get a driving licence. Those who pass the tests are handed the sought-after document, permitting holders to drive a car on public roads. This liberty has also been making the driving licence a ticket to adult life for more than 100 years. The history of driving schools goes back to the start of the 20th century. Among others, Mannheim-based vehicle mechanic and racing driver Jean Pfanz, an employee at Benz & Cie., established the first Benz driving school in 1904. The first German driving test was taken in 1904 in Prussia.

4 – Profession: For many people, the driving licence is the foundation for their profession: for instance, lorry drivers and taxi drivers, bus drivers and staff members at logistics companies. One of the “33 Extras” on display at the Mercedes-Benz Museum is a reminder of this in the form of the driving licence for chauffeur and Benz employee Josef Strassl, issued on 10 September 1910.

5 – Digital: Colloquial references in Germany for the driving licence originate from the old days when the permit used to be a grey or pink paper document. Ever since 1999 the driving licence has been a plastic card. However, digital versions have been gaining ground for some time. For instance, Estonia, Kosovo and, since autumn 2019, Norway have also been using driving licence apps.

6 – Sport: Anyone longing to experience their passion for motorsport first-hand needs a corresponding licence – a driving licence for racing drivers so to speak. Available categories range from novice to super licence for Formula 1. Nowadays, it takes a valid, standard driving licence to be able to race at the pinnacle of motorsport. Up to and including 2015 this was not mandatory.

7 – Future: In the foreseeable future we won’t be able to do without driving licences. However, when vehicles begin driving autonomously in the future, who will need a driving licence then? The vehicle owner or the vehicle?