How Allowing Undocumented Immigrants To Obtain Driver’s Licenses Can Save Lives

Unlicensed drivers are three times more likely to cause a fatal car crash compared to licensed drivers, according to a new report from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. And requiring drivers to pass a written test and driving test before they can obtain licenses plays a major rule in reducing traffic fatalities. In California, where the majority of unlicensed drivers are undocumented, this is reviving the debate about whether or not undocumented immigrants should be able to apply for driver’s licenses:

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.

It “really goes against public safety because the current law forces people who would otherwise be properly licensed to drive without one,” said Angela Sanbrano, board president for the Central American Resource Center in Los Angeles. […]

The DMV report looked at 23 years of data on fatal accidents. Its conclusions were similar to the last such report in 1997, which looked at accident data from 1987 to 1992. The latest report was also the first analysis since a 1994 change in the state law that required all licensed drivers show proof of legal residency, which significantly increased the number of unlicensed drivers.

Maria Galvan, a 42-year-old undocumented immigrant living in Los Angeles, told the Los Angeles Times that she continues to drive without a license because she has to get to work and take her children to school. “We need driver’s licenses to be comfortable and be trusted and follow the law,” she said.


There are roughly 2 million unlicensed drivers in the state, compared to 24 million licensed drivers. Previous legislative efforts to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses failed, but the Los Angeles Times points out that the issue might be gaining support. For the 2013 legislative session, one Democratic member of the state assembly has introduced a bill to allow anyone who can prove they pay taxes to apply for a driver’s license, regardless of their immigration status. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca previously have said they would support a measure like that.

Last fall, Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA) signed a bill allowing young undocumented immigrants who are granted temporary legal status under a deferred action policy President Obama announced in June 2012. Sixteen other states have also agreed to allow deferred action beneficiaries to apply for driver’s licenses, but at least six states are preventing them from becoming licensed drivers.