California has one of the highest concentrations of undocumented immigrant populations in the United States at 2.6 million, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank. Immigrants in the country illegally have not been allowed to apply for a driver’s license in California since the state began requiring proof of legal presence during the 1990s.
As of January 2, 2015, California is now one of ten states, including: Washington, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Illinois, Maryland, Vermont, Connecticut and the District of Columbia, to allow driver’s licenses, regardless of immigration status. Applicants will be required to provide proof of identity and California residency to the Department of Motor Vehicles, along with a list of other requirements. But they won’t be required to provide a social security number, proof of legal status, or other exhaustive requirements in order to apply for a driver’s license. The licenses issued to immigrants without legal status will include a distinctive marking and are not considered a valid form of federal identification.
So what does this mean for the drivers in San Diego and throughout California?
Law enforcement officials say the program will improve road safety because licensed drivers must be tested and insured. A DMV study of 23 years of crash data found that unlicensed drivers were more likely to cause a fatal collision than licensed drivers. In addition, state insurance officials hope the change will increase the number of drivers holding auto insurance. Previously unlicensed driver’s were only able to obtain auto insurance in very limited situations.
Many unlicensed drivers were involved in hit and run collisions for fear of criminal charges and/or deportation. Hit-and-run crashes are increasing in many major cities like San Diego, and hit-and-run fatalities are rising nationally. These crashes have reached such epidemic proportions in Los Angeles that, during one recent year, nearly half of all collisions in the city involved a driver who fled the scene.
Crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that the number of fatal hit-and-run crashes is trending upward, from 1,274 in 2009, to 1,393 in 2010, to 1,449 in 2011, the most recent year for which statistics were available.
The goal of this legislation is to cut down on hit and run accidents and to have less uninsured driver’s on the road. Legislators hope improved traffic safety education and less hurdles for illegal immigrants to jump over will result in less accidents and more insured driver’s on the roads of San Diego and throughout California. Will it work? Only time will tell.
Many drivers will still continue to drive unlicensed for a number of other reasons, including the inability to obtain a license due to a prior DUI or other factors. Many drivers will also continued to be involved in hit and run accidents due to not having insurance and/or fear of being arrested for driving under the influence.
If you have been injured by an unlicensed, uninsured or a hit and run driver in North County San Diego, you may still be able to recovery monies for your injuries. Please feel free to contact the San Diego Personal Injury Attorneys of Mortlock Law Group for a free consultation.