It's no secret that a large number of undocumented immigrants come to the U.S. seeking work and a better life for themselves and their families. But because these individuals are here without proper documentation, many of them are unable to apply for a driver's license and buy appropriate auto insurance.
This forces them to drive illegally and places other drivers at risk in the event of an accident.
Since 1993, 12 states and Washington, D.C., have changed their laws to allow undocumented drivers to apply for a license, with New Jersey as the next state to consider the change. Many believe that granting undocumented immigrants the ability to secure a license makes the roads safer for all.
Here are four of the ways everyone's safety and finances are at risk when only some drivers are unlicensed.
According to a report released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 8,400 people die each year in crashes with unlicensed drivers. While it is difficult to know how many unlicensed drivers are on the road today, Colorado estimates that 16.2% of its drivers don't have licenses and 18% of those are undocumented immigrants. New Mexico reports that its uninsured motorist rate fell by 24% and Utah's decreased by 20% after they implemented laws allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for licenses.
There are about 12 million undocumented immigrants living across the U.S., and New Jersey alone estimates 466,000 of these people would be eligible for a license and insurance in the state. If even a small percentage of these individuals are driving without a license, there are serious safety concerns. Unlicensed drivers often don't have driving experience or knowledge of traffic laws, which puts them at a greater risk of being involved in an auto accident. It also increases the safety risk for other drivers who do have the knowledge but can't predict or know which drivers are unlicensed and what decisions they'll make.
If undocumented immigrants were able to apply for some form of a license in more states, they would undergo driving assessments that ensure they understand driving laws and can drive safely.
Undocumented drivers who find themselves in an auto accident risk legal and financial ramifications. These drivers won't have car insurance, which typically pays for property damage, car repairs and medical expenses.
A common optional form of auto insurance is uninsured motorist coverage, which pays for expenses that result from being involved in an accident caused by an uninsured driver. The insurance includes two types of coverage: physical damage (i.e., damage to a vehicle) and bodily injury (i.e., medical expenses associated with injury from the accident).
But because only 20 states require it, plenty of drivers skip purchasing uninsured motorist coverage to save money on their auto insurance. Depending on where a driver resides, adding uninsured motorist coverage may only cost an additional $33–$76 per year. If that small yearly investment can save drivers thousands of dollars in the event of a collision with an undocumented motorist without insurance, it is well worth the costs.
An additional point to consider is whether an unlicensed driver will stay at the scene of an accident, especially if they don't have documentation proving citizenship. If they risk deportation, some may choose to leave the scene of the crime and avoid legal responsibility.
According to AAA, more than one hit-and-run accident (where the driver at fault flees the scene) occurs every minute. In 2016, hit-and-runs accounted for 2,049 deaths, a 60% increase since 2009. And their report on unlicensed drivers demonstrated that 15% left the scene after a fatal accident, as compared to just 1.7% of those with a valid license.
The Oregon Department of Transportation conducted a study that shows an adverse effect on the economy when states don't let unauthorized immigrants obtain a license. When undocumented immigrants can't obtain a license and choose not to drive, they spend more time commuting instead of being able to work or invest in their local communities. Those who have licenses are also more likely to make larger purchases including homes, appliances and vehicles.
Maxime Rieman is Product Manager at ValuePenguin. Educating and assisting shoppers about financial products has been Rieman's focus, which led her to joining ValuePenguin, a consumer research and advice company based in New York. Previously, she was product marketing director at CoverWallet and launched the personal insurance team at NerdWallet.
© 2021 Newsmax Finance. All rights reserved.