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Do 'driver-only' licenses improve safety on the roads?

The question of whether people who are living in this country illegally should be allowed to get driver's licenses has been a hot-button topic. Missouri is among the majority of states that requires non-U.S. citizens to present immigration documents when applying for a license.

However, advocates of allowing undocumented immigrants to go through the instruction and testing process necessary to obtain driver's licenses argue that it improves public safety.

A recent study done by Stanford University researchers in California found that when immigrants can obtain these licenses, the number of hit-and-run accidents may decrease. Fewer drivers would leave the scene of an accident because they feared arrest or deportation. The "driver-only" licenses are valid for driving, but prohibit law enforcement officers from using them to report drivers to immigration authorities

The researchers noted, "Our findings show that providing unauthorized immigrants with access to driver's licenses can create significant positive externalities for the communities in which they live."

The study, which looked at the impact on California since that state implemented the licenses, found no real decrease in overall traffic collisions. However, it estimated that having them has saved that state's drivers some $17 million in insurance costs incurred because an at-fault motorist left the scene. They acknowledged that more research is still needed to determine how much these licenses have impacted public safety.

Opponents of granting licenses to undocumented immigrants argue that they give people who aren't in the country legally a symbol of legitimacy. As one noted, it gives them "partial amnesty. With these documents, they can more effectively embed themselves in society."

Of course, with the current push from the highest levels of government to crack down on undocumented immigrants, even those with a valid driver's license may not want to take the chance of sticking around after an accident, whether it was their fault or not. It may also now be less likely that other states like Missouri will adopt such licenses. However, if we have more drivers on the road with proper training and licensing, as one researcher who reviewed the report noted, it wouldn't lessen the safety of other drivers.

Source: NBC 4 Los Angeles, "Giving Unauthorized Immigrants Licenses Appears to Reduce Hit and Runs: Study," accessed April 27, 2017

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