By Dorothy Dobbie
Funny, how a little piece of plastic can mean so much to our lives, even our freedom of movement. Today, you need a driver’s licence, not so much to be able to drive but to be able to prove you exist.
My natural inclination is to strain against these kinds of restraints, but driver’s licences have been curbing our freedom since before I was born so I never had the chance to rail against them – just accepted the necessity of having one as a matter of course. And I have had a driver’s licence since I was 20 and never got caught driving without one, renewing it faithfully every time the bureaucrats told me it was time to do so. You might say that I have become conditioned to doing as I am told with unquestioning grace, at least in the matter of driver’s licences.
A licence in two parts
So five years ago when I got my new photo driver’s licence, with its not too indecent colour photo of my unsmiling face (no smiling, please!) and it had on it a date that said it expired in five years, I took that as the gospel. It’s an attractive piece of plastic, orange for the NDP, red for the Canadian flag, green for the provincial logo and blue for the authority of the Crown. This plastic card is part one of a two-part licence, it says. It gives my date of birth, my licence number, the date it was issued and the expiry date: 05/04/2012. There is another part to this licence, a piece of blue, watermarked paper that describes my height, gender and eye colour. This part expired in 2010.
For the past two years, I have been driving without a part two! Not only that, but part one expired in May! And not only have I been driving, but I have been flying, even renting cars in Alberta with an expired licence, parts one and two. Nobody ever questioned it when I produced it
You can imagine my great indignation, then, when I went to pick up a rental car in Winnipeg some weeks ago only to be told that I was expired – indeed, not only expired but dead – at least my licence was.
The new licence, I was told, is green and the pictures on it are black and white and it only comes in one part. Nobody ever wrote to me about this. I had no timely notice. I had no idea.
“You are not alone,” said the friendly rental car person who took me to the nearest insurance agency so I could be renewed. “This happens all the time,” agreed the friendly car insurance person as he phoned someone, reassured them that I was alive and well and then issued me a temporary paper permit good until mid September. The little green plastic card, I acknowledge, did manage to reach me in time to keep me legal.
Border crossing convenience
A word about the little green card: the photos are black and white – apparently this is for security purposes. We certainly don’t want forged cards! There are other features built into the card as well, including raised fonts, rainbow printing and a two-dimensional bar code (“providing a convenient way to read your card”). Not that I care about all that – I am more interested in the fact that the raised print is not that crisp and a bit hard to read, as is the expiry date!
At the web site, I learn that I can get an enhanced driver’s licence for an extra $30, which will allow me to cross the border if I’m driving; if I’m flying, I still have to have a passport, though.
The site tells me that I will learn everything I need to know about my Manitoba driver’s licence here – but I don’t see anything about when it has to be renewed. The example show a licence that is valid for two years but someone in my office says it is an annual thing.
I did learn one thing, though – I can be fined or suspended for “using an outdated or otherwise invalid licence”.