Driver’s License Policy Makes for Safer Streets
Today, at the direction of Governor Eliot Spitzer, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) announced an administrative policy change that will make driver licenses—and, by extension, auto insurance—available without regard to immigration status. The decision rolls back a policy change made during the Pataki administration.
By including undocumented immigrants in our system of licensing and insuring drivers, Governor Spitzer is making our roads and highways safer. At a time when too many politicians are abandoning sound public policy in their rush to pander to anti-immigrant extremists, I commend the governor for his common-sense decision.
The DMV is not an arm of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, nor should it be. The DMV is responsible for keeping our roads safe by ensuring that the drivers know how to drive, and revoking driving privileges from those who repeatedly violate road safety laws. Mandatory auto insurance exists to ensure that if a driver injures someone else, the resources will be available to make the injured party whole. Our systems for licensing and insuring drivers work best for their intended purposes when everyone participates in them.
When we deny licenses and insurance to some drivers as punishment for their immigration status, we make our roads much more dangerous [pdf]. The DMV estimates that as many as 500,000 unlicensed and uninsured drivers are currently on New York’s roads, contributing to increased accidents and hit-and-runs. The simple reality is that the overwhelming majority of undocumented immigrants who can’t get licenses and insurance because of their immigration status do not stop driving. Instead they hit the roads with no guarantee that they know about American traffic laws, or even how to drive.
Finally, New Yorkers will realize a real financial benefit from this decision. Based on data from other states with similar policies, the State Department of Insurance estimates that expanded license access will reduce the costs passed onto policy holders to pay for uninsured motorist, saving New York drivers $120 million each year.
Anti-immigrant extremists will probably continue to ignore the distinction between the responsibilities of our national and state governments, and accuse the Governor of making New York State a “sanctuary” for law-breakers. Well, in this case we should be a sanctuary: a sanctuary for safe driving and safe streets.
As a legislator representing a hardworking, law-abiding community of immigrants, I am grateful for the actions taken today by the Governor, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and the State of New York.