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Proposed California Legislation Would Provide Driver’s Licenses to Illegal Immigrants

Last August, AB 2189, referred to as the Immigrant Driver License Bill, was passed by the Assembly in a 55-21 vote and was approved by the Senate in a 25-7 vote and passed on to California Governor Jerry Brown for review.



“If passed, AB2189 will grant driver’s licenses to certain qualifying immigrants who are in the United States illegally,” explained California car accident lawyer James Ballidis. 



Originally, the bill was intended to allow all illegal immigrants to obtain a license, but the modified version being passed on to Brown only grants licenses to immigrants 30 years old or younger who are eligible under a new federal program preventing deportation. Effective as of August 15, the program provides immigrants administrative relief from deportation if 1) they were under 16 when they came to the country; 2) they have a high school diploma or the equivalent and 3) they do not have a criminal record of any serious crime. 



According to the San Jose Mercury News, a 1993 law banning licenses for illegal immigrants will remain in place and will not be changed if Brown approves AB 2189. Instead, those who qualify for the federal program will be considered temporary legal residents. Approximately 300,000 to 400,000 illegal immigrants in the state are estimated to be eligible for the program, and the DMV may now be permitted to grant driver’s licenses to them.



Proponents contend the law could improve traffic safety. The Los Angeles Times reports that as many as 2 million undocumented immigrants may currently be driving in California without valid licenses. Drivers without licenses present significant risks to other motorists: they may be more likely to drive recklessly; they are not tested to determine their driving skills; they may be more likely to hit and run and they typically don’t have auto insurance, so they can’t pay for accidents in which they are involved.  



The hit-and-run issue is of grave concern in California, where the CHP indicates that 14,735 hit-and-run crashes left 147 dead and 19,009 injured in 2010. According to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, unlicensed and uninsured drivers are likely to be involved in a disproportionately higher number of hit-and-run accidents. Further, statistics released by the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and the Pew Hispanic Center revealed that the states with the most unlicensed drivers have the highest number of hit-and-run accidents.   



According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, approximately 18.2 percent of all fatal accidents between 2007 and 2009 involved a driver without a valid license; 21,049 people died as a result of these accidents. These statistics and the lack of testing for unlicensed drivers could support the position taken by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, who was quoted in a Los Angeles Times article as saying that the highways of California became “a lot less safe” once the state “started playing immigration politics with highway safety.”



The final major concern relates to insurance. Illegal immigrants who drive without a driver’s license are unable to obtain insurance, which means that if they are involved in an accident, the victims may not be able to obtain full compensation for their recovery-related expenses.  The costs of uninsured drivers are also passed on to drivers who are licensed and insured, as they pay higher premiums for uninsured motorist coverage due to the high number of unlicensed drivers. 



While granting licenses to illegal immigrants could make the roads safer, the bill has proven controversial.  In fact, according to the San Jose Mercury News, California voters oppose giving illegal immigrants driver’s licenses on a 56 to 40 percent margin. Opponents claim the bill would reward those who broke the law. Further, it is seen as a possible security risk because those with a license could fly and enter federal buildings.  



These are valid concerns, and the public safety threat the law may pose must be weighed carefully against that of having potentially millions of unlicensed, uninsured drivers on the roads. 



Additional information on this and other transportation safety issues is available to the public free of charge through our office’s Preferred Friends and Clients Program.



If you would like to request one of these free resources, or to speak with a California car accident lawyer, feel free to call 866-981-5596. 

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