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Could Licensing Undocumented Immigrants Impact Hit-and-Run Problem in California?


In California, there were an estimated 15,611 hit-and-run collisions in 2009, causing 20,260 injuries and killing 185 victims, according to the California Highway Patrol’s Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System. Many of these collisions likely occurred with people who did not have driver’s licenses and/or proper insurance, both of which can be motivating factors in causing a driver to flee the scene of a crash.

“Fear of penalties for driving without a license and insurance can deter motorists from stopping at the scene of a crash,” explained an auto accident attorney in Orange County.

Nationwide, unlicensed drivers contribute to a high percentage of fatal crashes. AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety studies indicate that one of every five fatal crashes involves a driver who is definitely or possibly driving with an invalid or no license. For those hit-and-run drivers whose license status could be determined, the Foundation found that 41.1 percent were driving with an invalid license or no license.

One approach to addressing the problem currently supported by law enforcement and politicians in the state is to provide driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Since the passage of SB 976 in 1993, a Social Security number and proof of California residency is necessary to apply for a driver’s license in the state, in effect barring undocumented immigrants from access to the privilege.

Proponents of the idea, including Los Angeles police chief Charlie Beck and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, argue that providing undocumented immigrants with driver’s licenses will obligate them to register vehicles in the name of the actual owner and to carry auto insurance and valid identification.

They claim that pre-license testing will not only help to make the roads safer, but the very fact of having a license may reduce accidents by helping unlicensed drivers to be more relaxed behind the wheel instead of nervous, erratic or eager to avoid law enforcement. Further, having auto insurance can make it possible for the victims of accidents to receive compensation for injury-related expenses and property damage. Finally, having both a license and insurance will make hit-and-runs less likely, as undocumented immigrants will not face the legal consequences of driving without a license or insurance.

While arguments against issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants range from concerns that the move would legitimize their illegal status in the country to the potential threat to national security, one benefit would be that authorities would have identifying information on a greater percentage of drivers, allowing them to more easily track-and, if necessary, apprehend-them.

Additional information on this and other transportation issues, including books and articles on the process of pursuing an injury or a wrongful death claim after an auto accident, is available to the public free of charge.

To request one of these free resources, or to speak with an auto accident attorney in Orange County, feel free to call 866-981-5596.

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