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Celebrating 70 Years of Driving Tennessee

Monday, September 17, 2007 | 07:00pm

Nashville, Tennessee —The Department of Safety kicks off its month-long 70th anniversary celebration of the Tennessee Driver License, “70 Years Driving Tennessee”, at the 18th Annual Music City Mopar Car & Truck Show this weekend, September 22-23, at the Wilson County Fairgrounds in Lebanon. 150 antique cars and trucks will be on display.

The public is welcome to join TDOS employees Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for the free car show and a large display of driver license memorabilia. The exhibit will include original copies of some of the first driver licenses issued in Tennessee, a copy of the state’s first Motor Vehicle Operator’s License Handbook, historic photos and a visual presentation, featuring TDOS employees from the 1950’s through 1980’s. Employees from the Driver License Issuance Division will join the kick-off celebration in Lebanon and participate statewide in anniversary celebrations.

The Tennessee Driver License Law was first enacted in 1937, making Tennessee the 32nd state to license drivers. The first driver license test was issued on April 18, 1938. In 1984, Tennessee issued its first photo driver license with the “Say Cheese, Tennessee” campaign that earned national honors from the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administration. Today, more than four million residents hold valid Tennessee Driver Licenses.

Also on public display this weekend will be the THP “No Zone” tractor-trailer rig, which identifies blind spots around 18-wheelers for the motoring public, the THP “Litterbug” 1974 Volkswagen, used statewide to promote the “No Litter” campaign, and a 2008 THP patrol car. Safety Education officers will also be on hand to answer questions about new and well-established laws and regulations to ensure safety on Tennessee highways and interstates.

Beginning Monday, September 24, Driver License Centers across the state will recognize the 70th anniversary by hosting smaller celebrations with banners, flags, posters, cake, and in some cases, special ceremonies. The Music City Mopar Club Car & Truck Show, which offers fun for all ages, is located at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center, Wilson County Fairgrounds, Highway 70, approximately 1 mile north of I-40, Exit 239.

The Tennessee Department of Safety ( is responsible for ensuring the safety and general welfare of the traveling public. The department’s general areas of responsibility encompass law enforcement, safety education and motorist services, including the issuance of driver licenses. The department and its highly trained staff of Troopers are responsible for safety on more than 15,000 miles of state and federal highways.


  • The Driver License Law was enacted in 1937, and Tennessee became the 32nd state to require a license to drive.
  • The first Driver Licenses were obtained for 50 cents and issued by the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
  • The first Driver License test was issued on April 19, 1938.
  • The Department of Safety was formed in 1939.
  • On July 1, 1965, license renewal changed from April 1st to the license holder’s birthday as the standard yearly expiration date.
  • In July 1971, the first female employees were allowed to begin administering the road test exams, replacing THP Troopers.
  • In 1983, Driver License moved out of the Highway Patrol and was established as a sovereign division within the Department of Safety.
  • On March 4, 1984, the first photo driver license was issued and 14 new modular Driver License exam stations were established and 144 new Driver License Examiners were hired.
  • Also in 1984, Tennessee won 1st Place from the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) for the “Say Cheese, Tennessee” campaign, which was used to promote photo licenses.
  • In June 1996, the first written tests in Spanish, Korean and Japanese were provided.
  • In February 1998, Tennessee became the first state in the nation to have Commercial Driver License Examiners receive international examiner certification through AAMVA.
  • In October 2000, the first Internet-based services were launched, allowing applicants to process non-commercial license renewals on-line.
  • In July 2004, a new Certificate for Driving (CFD) license privilege was established for applicants who could not prove citizenship or lawful permanent residence.
  • On March 6, 2006, the Certificate for Driving (CFD) program was amended to abolish the issuance of the CFD to “undocumented” applicants.
  • In June 2006, Driver License received approval for the creation of 7 new Driver License Stations, the first expansion of locations since 1984.
  • Tennessee currently has in excess of 4.2 million drivers who hold a valid Driver License and Driver License Issuance employees handle 1.7 million transactions annually.

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