- A license to operate a motor vehicle is a privilege that the state may withhold in the exercise of its police power.
The petitioner correctly points out that a license to operate a motor vehicle is not a property right, but a privilege granted by the state, which may be suspended or revoked by the state in the exercise of its police power, in the interest of the public safety and welfare, subject to the procedural due process requirements. This is consistent with our rulings in Pedro v. Provincial Board of Rizal on the license to operate a cockpit, Tan v. Director of Forestry and Oposa v. Factoran on timber licensing agreements, and Surigao Electric Co., Inc. v. Municipality of Surigao on a legislative franchise to operate an electric plant.
Petitioner cites a long list of American cases to prove this point, such as State ex. Rel. Sullivan, which states in part that, “the legislative power to regulate travel over the highways and thoroughfares of the state for the general welfare is extensive. It may be exercised in any reasonable manner to conserve the safety of travelers and pedestrians. Since motor vehicles are instruments of potential danger, their registration and the licensing of their operators have been required almost from their first appearance. The right to operate them in public places is not a natural and unrestrained right, but a privilege subject to reasonable regulation, under the police power, in the interest of the public safety and welfare. The power to license imports further power to withhold or to revoke such license upon noncompliance with prescribed conditions.”
Likewise, the petitioner quotes the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Commonwealth v. Funk, to the effect that: “Automobiles are vehicles of great speed and power. The use of them constitutes an element of danger to persons and property upon the highways. Carefully operated, an automobile is still a dangerous instrumentality, but, when operated by careless or incompetent persons, it becomes an engine of destruction. The Legislature, in the exercise of the police power of the commonwealth, not only may, but must, prescribe how and by whom motor vehicles shall be operated on the highways. One of the primary purposes of a system of general regulation of the subject matter, as here by the Vehicle Code, is to insure the competency of the operator of motor vehicles. Such a general law is manifestly directed to the promotion of public safety and is well within the police power.”
The common thread running through the cited cases is that it is the legislature, in the exercise of police power, which has the power and responsibility to regulate how and by whom motor vehicles may be operated on the state highways.