Photo of Wacker Drive traffic in Chicago by John Iwanski.
The Illinois legislature is expected to consider a bill to allow people here illegally to obtain a driver’s license after going through the same procedures as people who are currently allowed to obtain a driver’s license (exams and fees, etc.). The bill is still being drafted.
This is an “open thread”, designed to spark a discussion. I’ve attempted to present all the latest news and facts on this issue, but I’ve not found any opposing viewpoints except for a debate in Michigan (see Further reading at the end).
On Friday, November 16, the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board called for legislation to be passed, citing these benefits:
- To get the licenses, illegal immigrants would have to pass the same vision, written and road tests as someone getting a regular license. If that leads to more driving training, it could make the roads safer.
- Police officers making a stop would know who is driving the car. With the threat of deportation lessened, illegal immigrants would have less of a motivation to leave the scene of an accident.
- Families would be less likely to see a family member deported after a routine traffic stop.
- Health care providers would have an easier time identifying patients. If an illegal alien with contagious spinal meningitis goes into a coma, for example, it’s difficult to identify the patient’s contacts, who need to be treated. A visitor’s license would make that possible because it would contain personal data.
- Backers of the measure say New Mexico experienced a huge drop in the number of uninsured drivers after licenses were made available in 2003. That doesn’t square, however, with numbers from the Insurance Research Council, which lists New Mexico as the state with the second-highest number of uninsured drivers. But if granting visitor’s licenses persuades even some illegal immigrants to get insurance, that could lower rates for all of us and benefit accident victims.
I hadn’t heard of this or previous attempts to make it possible for illegal immigrants to receive a driver’s license until the newspaper’s editorial, although a similar law was attempted five years ago. Illinois would be the third state in the country, after New Mexico and Washington. Utah also issues licenses but places a mark on them, denoting their “non-compliance”.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel supports the change. The mayor was quoted in the Washington Times, saying,
“I strongly support state legislation that will allow every Chicagoan, regardless of legal status, to enjoy the rights and responsibilities that come with a driver’s license,” he said. “I will be a strong advocate for this bill as we work to make Chicago the most immigrant-friendly city in the country.”
As do 28 Chicago aldermen. Fran Spielman reports in the Chicago Sun-Times on Thursday, November 15:
In the nine years since the law was passed, the rate of uninsured motorists in New Mexico plunged—from 33 percent to less than nine percent, the aldermen said. New Mexico has also seen a 24 percent drop in drunk driving accidents and a 25 percent reduction in traffic fatalities, the aldermen said.
“It’ll make our streets and our highways safer,” said Ald. Joe Moore (49th), whose ward includes a virtual United Nations full of immigrants.
Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran also supports the measure. The Lake County News-Sun editorial board wrote on Monday, November 19:
The Libertyville Republican rightly argues licensing undocumented drivers will make roads safer, allow for more efficient policing, improve the economy and best of all, save lives. Having illegals obtain driver’s licenses means they have to be tested on paper and on the road, and then must have insurance.
In Lake County, 470 (28 percent) of all motorists booked at the Lake County Jail for traffic offenses the past year were undocumented immigrants, according to the Highway Safety Coalition, which is behind the call for issuing licenses to the undocumented.
Curran was quoted earlier, in the Chicago Sun-Times on Friday, November 9, mentioning that illegal immigrants without a driver’s license must be detained and go through the court system.
[He noted] most of the individuals involved would be eager to get a license if only there was a procedure allowing them to do so.
“They would love to not violate the law, but they need to feed their families, and they have to get to work,” Curran said.
On top of that, allowing these drivers to be licensed would result in more people on the road who have been tested, Curran said, and once they have a license, more could obtain auto insurance
Should the legislature allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses? What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing this?
It seems easy to drive without a valid license, which people do regardless of their immigration status. It’s not possible, however, to know how many people are driving without a valid driver’s license – except by stopping everyone driving and checking for it.
The American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety analyzed data in the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) to come up with the following statistics (for crashes nationwide in 2001-2005). View the report.
An average of 8,030 drivers were involved in fatal crashes and were definitely or possibly driving with an invalid license or no license. Of this group,
- 29.6% were driving with no known license
- 43.6% were driving with a suspended or revoked license
- 7.6% were driving cancelled, expired, or otherwise invalid license
- Remaining 18.9% had an undetermined license status
This group of 8,030 drivers composed 13.7% of all drivers involved in fatal crashes, but were involved in 20.5% of all deaths occurring in motor vehicle crashes! The report also noted the following, which shows how easy it is to drive without a valid license (again, data is nationwide):
Nearly 7,000 drivers involved in fatal crashes every year (11.9 percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes) have had their license suspended or revoked at least once in the preceding three years, including over 1,700 who have had their licenses suspended or revoked three or more times.
Another key finding? People driving with a known license status (which doesn’t actually mean a valid license) were less likely to flee a crash.
A Metra train passes on a viaduct over Kennedy Expressway traffic.
The Sun-Times’s editorial from Friday, November 16, doesn’t provide anymore insight as to any existing research or rationale for why and how these benefits would be realized. For instance, I’d like to know the rate of deportation after making traffic stops.
Several of the Chicagoan deaths we’ve tracked in the Fatality Tracker are by the control of an unlicensed driver (immigration status unknown). If this legislation passes, the punishment for driving without a license should increase to ensure that those who are here illegally are especially motivated to obtain legal driving privileges.
I ask supporters of this measure make a push for mobility education, too, that would increase the quality and breadth of education that drivers must receive before obtaining a license. If you’re going to open a can of worms, might as well throw a gem in there.
I wonder what the extent of driving without a license is in areas with good or great transit mobility and accessibility (like New York City and Los Angeles) versus those without (like many suburban and rural areas). If an alternative mode isn’t there to take you to work, one would do what they need to do to get there.
- Mark Brown’s column in the Chicago Sun-Times from Friday, November 9, 2012
- A similar debate is happening in Michigan – Fox News Latino, Wednesday, November 21, 2012
- Some theories about why some people might get multiple licenses after revocation. This editorial was written after an incident in Elgin: Juan Diaz has had 15 DUIs and is still driving after losing his license 4 times. From Thursday, November 8, 2012.
- Summary of State Laws on the Issuance of Driver’s Licenses to Undocumented Aliens by the Congressional Research Service from September 13, 2005