On the topic of drivers licenses for illegal immigrants (DLI), supporters argue that allowing illegal immigrants to obtain licenses will ensure that they drive safely on city streets, even if they are technically not allowed to live here.
I have opposed this measure on moral grounds, precisely because the illogic of someone driving in the United States legally, yet living here illegally makes no sense.
The policy encourages more illegal immigration, as well. If a nation is defined by secure borders, how can anyone expect to stem the tide if cities or states permit those who come illegally one more privilege while living in the shadows?
Looking over arguments from proponents, a number of insurance companies endorse this reform.
My initial reaction: of course they do! By expanding the number of potential licensed drivers, car insurance companies will have more clients. Yes, insurance rates have dropped for major companies.
However, this proposal was about making our streets safer.
Do American motorists in cities with this policy ride on safer streets?
|LAPD Chief Charlie Beck|
Los Angles Police Chief Charlie Beck believed so.
Beck believes issuing licenses to illegal immigrants would improve safety on California roads and would, for example, reduce the number of hit-and-run accidents because illegal immigrant drivers would not have fear being caught without a license at accidents, according to the Times.
Beck has in recent months pushed to make a controversial change to the LAPD’s vehicle impound rules for unlicensed drivers. The policy now calls for the car of an unlicensed driver to be impounded, but Beck wants unlicensed drivers with a clean record to be able to call another driver with a license, who would then be allowed to drive the car away.
The operative word in Beck's justification is "believe", no facts or evidence to support his claim.
Immigrant rights groups say that granting such licenses would reduce fatalities and costly uninsured motorist claims. Insurance companies paid out $634 million in claims for collisions related to uninsured motorists in 2009, according to the most recent data from the state.
Another report within the LA Times article also suggested that illegal immigrants with drivers licenses would not leave the accident:
Supporters point out that granting licenses to illegal immigrants also could reduce the number of hit-and-run accidents. Unlicensed drivers leave crash scenes at significantly higher rates than licensed drivers, according to a 2011 national report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
"I suspect that the reason people hit-and-run is they are afraid of the consequences," said Izen, the police union president. "Maybe if they had a driver's license, they wouldn't run."
Once again, the prevalence of supposition is striking: "could", "should", "would".
Reason.com provided information which suggested that insurance rates increased slightly, along with traffic fatalities, and identity fraud:
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Insurance Regulation suggested that in states that grant driver's licenses to such immigrants, the rate of uninsured motorists had increased by almost 2%, resulting in more fatal car crashes.
In Utah, a 2006 state audit report showed that about 75% of those with the immigrant "driving privilege cards" had obtained car insurance, compared with 81% of those with regular licenses.
|New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez|
In fact, New Mexico's Governor Susanna Martinez explained why she ran (and won) on a platform of repealing the law, then Martinez affirmed her refusal to compromise on the issue.
Is there any evidence which we could draw some information from?
New Mexico passed the DL law in 2003. Was there any significant change in traffic accidents or fatalities because of this law?
In 2003, there were 48, 128 accidents, and 367 fatal crashes.
In 2004, 52, 288 accidents and 440 crashes.
In 2005, 49, 023 accidents and 420 crashes.
Looking over the data toward the end of the first decade of the 2000s to 2011, the number of accidents did diminish, along with hit-and-run accidents.
Another interesting trend from the New Mexico traffic statistics: the number of hit-and-run accidents increased between 2003-2006.
Let us recall that DLI proponents argued that permitting illegal immigrants to obtain drivers licenses would decrease hit-and-run accidents. In New Mexico, from 2003-2006, that was not the case at all.
Looking over driving and accident stats from 2007 to 2011, though, the numbers trended downward over the remainder of the decade, even when factoring out population growth.
Perhaps DLI did ensure safer streets, even though one chart in the 2010 report showed that there were more registrations for drivers licenses than licensed drivers in New Mexico.
Then again, Fox News Latino released a story which reported that the new law did not increase the number of insured drivers at all, and that the trends in decreased accidents was merely part of a national trend, anyway:
"If the policy is motivated by a lowering of uninsured motorists or decreasing accidents, I think it has had an insignificant effect," said J. Tim Query, Ph.D, Associate Professor of Risk Management and Insurance at New Mexico State University. "Being one of only two states, Washington being the other, that allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a state-issued driver’s license increases the probability of fraud."
Another set of arguments, in relation to Oregon's proposals, further undermine the tenets of increasing public safety through DLI:
In 2011, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released a report that analyzed traffic accident data collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System database.
The AAA report reveals that from 2007-2009 less than 5 percent of the drivers involved in fatal car accidents nationwide were unlicensed drivers.
An NBC article pointed out that three states with DLI witnessed a surge of illegal immigrants entering those states. Governor Martinez' concerns were actually well-founded.
The licensure issue is moot, then, regarding public safety. There is no clear evidence which suggests that DLI makes for safer streets. Instead, the program seems to invite more illegal immigration and fraud.