We all want to feel safer. There are dozens of regulations in place to increase our safety on a day-to-day basis. We require people to have health insurance, car insurance, to buckle their seatbelts, strap children into car seats, keep job sites safe, make sure food is labeled clearly, restrict prescription medications, the list goes on. The reasoning behind nearly every law or regulation we have could, in some way, be tied to public safety. And if it’s not safety? It’s often economics. Policies that are good for the economy eventually benefit individual citizens’ well-being. And when the economy is doing well and citizens are doing well, guess what? We feel safer. It’s cyclical, you see?
So, why doesn’t the concern for public safety extend to the roads and highways of Texas, where we are all statistically far more likely to suffer bodily harm or death than in almost any other situation we face on a daily basis? Though hundreds of regulations are designed to make our roads safer, others inexplicably weaken these safety measures. For example, in 2008, the Texas Department of Public Safety began requiring applicants to show proof of their legal status in the U.S. in order to obtain a driver’s license. That’s right, our government made a decision to refuse driver’s licenses to people who couldn’t produce evidence of their legal status.
Why doesn’t the rationale of increasing public safety extend to the issuance of driver’s licenses? If you want to drive an automobile, you should be required to take and pass a test to prove that you know how to drive and understand the rules of the road. Licensed drivers understand traffic regulations and are far less likely to be involved in serious car accidents. Regardless of your stance on immigration—purely from a selfish standpoint—don’t we all want our roads and our families to be safer?
But a driver’s license is actually much more than an indication that a person understands traffic laws and has passed a test. It is also a safeguard in the event of an accident. Simply having a driver’s license may very well reduce the probability that the driver will flee the scene of an accident. Additionally, licensed drivers are more likely to carry automobile insurance, reducing the cost and burden on the victim of an accident. An accident involving an unlicensed and uninsured driver who is at fault unfairly shifts 100% of the burden onto the licensed driver.
While restricting undocumented immigrants’ access to driver’s licenses may seem like the simple denial of a privilege that impacts only that person, it actually restricts licensed drivers’ access to remedies to which they would otherwise be entitled after a car accident. Further, driver’s license application fees generate a dependable source of revenue for states. By refusing driver’s licenses to these individuals, we’re also rejecting the accompanying revenues.
Personal sentiments on immigration and the rights of undocumented immigrants aside, it is in the best interest of all of us to acknowledge the realities of the situation and allow this significant sector of our population to become educated in the rules of the road and obtain driver’s licenses (and in turn, car insurance). Texas has an estimated 1.5 million undocumented residents who share our state with us as well as our roads. It’s time to put aside any personal bias or opinions on immigration that compromise our own safety and societal well-being. Restrictions on a person’s access to a driver’s license based solely on legal status harm all of us.
Written by Susan Bond, Member, AILA Media Advocacy Committee