States that let illegal immigrants get driver’s licenses make their roads safer for everyone, a new study suggests.
After implementing such a law in January 2015, California saw a 7 to 10 percent drop in hit-and-run accidents that year, Stanford researchers report Monday in PNAS. That equates to about 4,000 fewer hit-and-runs for the year. In that time frame, more than 600,000 unauthorized immigrants were licensed, and the accident and fatality rate was not changed by the law.
“Overall, the findings suggest that providing driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants led to improved road safety,” the authors conclude.
The findings provide some long-needed data for the debate over such policies. Currently, 12 states and Washington, DC have passed laws allowing people living in the country to obtain a driver’s license without legal permission. California law, called AB60, allows unauthorized immigrants residing in California to drive legally. And it explicitly prohibits law enforcement from declaring permit holders to immigration officials.
Critics argue that licensing unauthorized immigrants will lead to Lake accidents and less safe roads. They reason that such drivers are: likely to drive old, poorly maintained cars; you are unlikely to take out insurance; may not be able to decipher English road signs; and may come from places where flight from the scene of an accident is acceptable.
Proponents argue that training, testing, and licensing unauthorized immigrant drivers—who are likely to drive with or without a license—can only improve road safety. In addition, drivers with a driver’s license can suppress their fear of deportation or other legal consequences for driving or an accident. This could make those drivers more likely to seek insurance coverage and stay at the scene of the collision.
Road to data
This last component is critical to overall road safety, the authors of the new study explain. If drivers remain on site, you not only ensure that the defaulting driver continues to pay, but also ensure that the authorities are promptly notified. When this happens, the police can secure the area to prevent victims from being hit again or other accidents from happening. It also means that injured people are not delayed in receiving medical treatment, which can increase the severity of injuries or even lead to death.
To solve the problem, the researchers searched California state traffic accident records and Department of Motor Vehicle registration and registration records. They found that licensing of unauthorized immigrants varied widely by province after AB60 was introduced.
This variation by county was helpful in figuring out what statewide trends could be tied to the new licenses. For example, the researchers found a drop in the number of accidents per capita following the passage of the law. But that trend had nothing to do with licensing, i.ethe counties with the highest shares of newly licensed unauthorized immigrant drivers did not necessarily see the greatest reduction in traffic accidents.
The researchers did find a connection between the new licenses and fewer hit-and-runs. They also noted that there was no boom in vehicle registrations, despite the state issuing more than 600,000 new driver’s licenses under the law in 2015. This suggests that unauthorized immigrants were likely on the road before they were licensed.
The study simply provides a correlation; it doesn’t say for sure if AB60 caused fewer hit-and-runs. However, the authors say the findings raise the idea that unauthorized immigrant drivers, licensed and protected from deportation, are more likely to remain at the scene of an accident. This not only increases safety, but can also reduce insurance costs caused by hit-and-runs, the authors argue.
PNAS2017. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1618991114 (About DOIs).