Why Drivers’ Licenses for All Immigrants Makes Sense

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Senator Matt McCoy’s proposed bill SF283 is supported by the ACLU of Iowa because it promotes safe roads and enables all immigrants to protect and provide for themselves and their families.

Promote Driving with a License and Carrying Liability Insurance

Enabling all of Iowa’s immigrants to have access to driver’s licenses improves roadway safety for all by ensuring that all drivers get tested on their driving skills, know the rules of the road, and have access to insurance.

Part of Our Communities

Aspiring citizens in Iowa need access to driver’s license upon passing the driving test, because driving is necessary to go to work and provide for their families, as well as trips to the doctor, to church, to the grocery store, and school.

Making Iowa Streets and Highways Safe

Iowa needs practical, workable policies. Denying thousands of drivers access to licenses doesn’t make any sense and is dangerous. There are more than 40,000 traffic fatalities in the U.S. each year, and over 6.3 million motor-vehicle crashes, disproportionately caused by unlicensed drivers. In 2011 in Iowa, 360 people died in traffic fatalities. An AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety report found that unlicensed drivers are almost five times more likely to be in a fatal crash than are validly licensed drivers.

There are legitimate and sound avenues—like passports and consular documents—for individuals to prove identity. That would allow the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) to fulfill its mission of ensuring safe roads and enable thousands of aspiring citizens to get the motorist liability insurance coverage they should have.

National  Progress

Nationwide, states are looking to make are street safer.  Illinois in early 2013 expanded Temporary Visitor Driver’s Licenses (TVDL). TVDLs are visually distinct from other licenses, and are marked on their face as not valid for identification. Given these differences, no one can use a TVDL to register to vote or vote, apply for a Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) card, board an airplane, or enter a federal building. New Mexico enacted legislation to issue driver’s licenses to all immigrants in 2003.

Utah enacted similar legislation in 1999.  In 2005, this legislation was amended to provide for the issuance of a new “Driving Privilege Cards” (DPCs) to non-REAL ID-qualified motorists. Washington also allows undocumented immigrants to get licenses. All these states also use strong procedures to verify documents regarding identity and residency and guard against fraud and abuse. We here in Iowa can follow suit.

New Mexico’s rate of uninsured vehicles decreased from 33 percent in December 2002, before their driver’s license law was enacted in 2003, to less than 9.1 percent in 2011.  From 2003 to 2009, New Mexico had a 24 percent decline in alcohol-involved crashes, from 3,566 in 2003 to 2,698 in 2009. Because individuals are more likely to buy and maintain car insurance with a valid license, New Mexico has a very high mandatory car insurance compliance rate of above 90 percent.

Limited Licenses Expand Benefits to Iowans Beyond Immigrants

Providing this alternative is important not only for immigrants but also for US citizens. Not all lawfully present individuals have ready access to documentation proving their immigration status; as Iowa shifts to Real ID compliance, it’s important for those people to have an alternative.

As of 2006, 13 million US citizens did not have ready access to documentation proving their citizenship; most of those in low-income category.

Limiting Access to a License Jeopardizes Road Safety, Increases Insurance Rates

  • Unlicensed drivers make our roads more dangerous
  • All drivers pay the price for uninsured drivers
  • In Iowa, between 10-13 % of all accidents are caused by uninsured drivers.
  • The national average additional cost per person for their auto insurance policy due to accidents caused by unlicensed and uninsured drivers is $116.90 per year.

 Limiting Access to a License Jeopardizes the Police Effectiveness

  • People are more likely to flee from the scene of traffic accidents if they are driving without a license.
  • Categorically defining tens of thousands of people as ineligible for a license weakens the strength of the Iowa DOT database as a crime-fighting tool.
  • Police will have a much more difficult time finding people to serve warrants and court summonses and valuable jail space will be filled with people who have committed minor infractions because they cannot adequately prove their home address.
  • Iowa can remain REAL ID-complaint while expanding access to driver’s licenses for aspiring citizens. The federal REAL ID Act of 2005 allows states to create a separate identification and drivers’ license for persons who cannot prove lawful status. 
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