LOS ANGELES -- Unlicensed drivers are almost three times more likely to cause a fatal car crash than licensed drivers, reveals a report by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
The report, released in December, analyzed collision data from 1987 to 2009. The DMV determined that unlicensed drivers are more likely to be at fault in fatal collisions and that people aged 20 to 29 make up the largest percentage of unlicensed drivers involved in two-vehicle fatal crashes.
The Los Angeles Times, which first reported on the study Wednesday, wrote that the DMV findings add "fuel to the debate over whether illegal immigrants should be eligible for licenses."
But people shouldn't automatically associate unlicensed drivers with undocumented immigrants, said Jorge Mario-Cabrera, spokesman for immigrant advocacy group CHIRLA.
"This report paints a partial picture of who the unlicensed drivers in California are," Mario-Cabrera told The Huffington Post in a phone interview. "Not all undocumented immigrants in California are driving on roads without a license."
Indeed, the DMV report makes no mention of immigrants, undocumented or otherwise. The study is simply a look at drivers who don't have valid California licenses.
The Times also said the DMV report's findings suggest that passing a written exam and driving test -- what the newspaper called "modest requirements" to get a driver's license -- may improve road safety and reduce the number of fatal crashes.
Not so, said DMV spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez. The report focuses on "unlicensed drivers," explained Gonzalez. That group includes anyone from undocumented immigrants to the state's worst drivers -- people who have had their licenses revoked or suspended because of DUIs, traffic violations or missed fee payments. Much more than a simple written and practical test separates bad drivers from their licenses.
"They could be undocumented," said Gonzalez. "But they could also be people from another state that don't have a California driver's license. They could be people who never got a license."
The DMV did analyze both "suspended/revoked" and "unlicensed" drivers. The conclusion for both groups was that "those who drive without a valid license are nearly three times more likely to cause a fatal crash relative to their exposure." The Times story makes no mention of the "suspended/revoked" category.
Bottom line? "We don't know the actual number of unlicensed drivers," said Gonzalez, or the reasons why they are unlicensed. All the DMV can do is create an "x file" -- a placeholder record that notes each time a driver is stopped without a valid license and the reason for the stop. The department tries to match the x-file records with a person in the event the person does try to obtain a license.
The Times later added a "for the record" note on its website, saying the story "incorrectly attributed to a Department of Motor Vehicles study the statement that the vast majority of those drivers are illegal immigrants. While true, according to the office of Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville), the fact was not included in the study." A spokesman for the newspaper wasn't immediately available for comment.
It's unclear how Assemblyman Alejo knows the majority of unlicensed drivers are undocumented immigrants. A request for comment from the assemblyman's office was not immediately returned.
Mario-Cabrera said the DMV report highlights the need for California to make the driver's license application process more widely available, even though he disclaimed the assumption that unlicensed drivers and undocumented immigrants are the same.
"The report underscores the need for Sacramento to come to their senses and grant licenses to undocumented immigrants," Mario-Cabrera said. "We've always argued that our highways would be safer if in fact we had more immigrants, documented or not, be able to go through the regular procedure the rest of us go through. I don't see why we just don't do it."
The DMV recommends only one policy change to improve the unlicensed driver problem: vehicle impoundment. Ironically, the Los Angeles Police Department curtailed this tactic in early 2012 over concerns that it unfairly burdened undocumented immigrants.
"We had heard [about the LAPD's decision], but we can't really force anyone to do anything," said Gonzalez.
UPDATE Jan. 17, 2013: California Assemblymember Luis Alejo (D-Salinas) says that the DMV's report on unlicensed drivers demonstrates the need for the state legislature to pass AB 60, the Safe and Responsible Driver Act.
Proposed by Assemblymember Alejo, it would allow people that pay federal taxes to apply for a California driver's license. In a statement sent to HuffPost, Assemblymember Alejo said he was proud this bill carries on the work of former Senator Gil Cedillo, who campaigned for years to give undocumented immigrants the right to apply for a driver's license.
“AB 60 is a common sense bill. Having uninsured drivers is a hazard for everyone and the recent DMV report proves that point,” says Alejo in the statement. “The Safe and Responsible Driver Act improves safety on our roadways because it will ensure that immigrants that pay taxes will be eligible for a driver’s license with insurance requirements.”
Also on HuffPost:
The Template: California Proposition 187 (1994)
California's Proposition 187 was submitted to the voters with the full support of then Republican governor Pete Wilson. It essentially blamed undocumented immigrants for the poor performance of the state economy in the early 1990s. The law called for cutting off benefits to undocumented immigrants: prohibiting their access to health care, public education, and other social services in California. It also required state authorities to report anyone who they suspected was undocumented. <strong>Status:</strong> The law passed with the support of 55 percent of the voters in 1994 but declared unconstitutional 1997. The law was killed in 1999 when a new governor, Democrat Gray Davis, refused to appeal a judicial decision that struck down most of the law. Even though short-lived, the legislation paved the way for harsher immigration laws to come. On the other hand, the strong reaction from the Hispanic community and immigration advocates propelled a drive for naturalization of legal residents and created as many as one million new voters.
The Worst: Arizona SB 1070
The Arizona Act made it a misdemeanor for an undocumented immigrant to be within the state lines of Arizona without legal documents allowing their presence in the U.S. This law has been widely criticized as xenophobic and for encouraging racial profiling. It requires state authorities to inquire about an individual's immigration status during an arrest when there is "reasonable suspicion" that the individual is undocumented. The law would allow police to detain anyone who they believe was in the country illegally. <strong>Status:</strong> The law was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010. But it has generated a swirl of controversy and questions about its constitutionality. A federal judge issued a ruling that blocked what critics saw as some of the law's harshest provisions. House: 35-31 (4/12/2011)
Following Arizona's Footsteps: Georgia HB 87
The controversy over Arizona's immigration law was followed by heated debate over Georgia's own law. HB 87 required government agencies and private companies to check the immigration status of applicants. This law also limited some government benefits to people who could prove their legal status. <strong>Status:</strong> Although a federal judge temporarily blocked parts of the law considered too extreme, it went into effect on July 1st. 2011. House: 113-56 Senate: 39-17
Verifying Authorized Workers: Pennsylvania HB 1502
This bill, which was approved in 2010, bans contractors and subcontractors employ undocumented workers from having state construction contracts. The bill also protects employees who report construction sites that hire illegal workers. To ensure that contractors hire legal workers, the law requires employers to use the identification verification system E-verify, based on a compilation of legally issued Social Security numbers. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved on June 8th 2010. House: 188-6 (07/08/2010) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by DonkeyHotey</a>
A Spin Off of Arizona: Utah HB 497
Many states tried to emulate Arizona's SB 1070 law. However, most state legislatures voted against the proposals. Utah's legislature managed to approve an immigration law based on a different argument. Taking into consideration the criticism of racial profiling in Arizona, Utah required ID cards for "guest workers" and their families. In order to get such a card workers must pay a fee and have clean records. The fees go up to $2,500 for immigrants who entered the country illegally and $1,000 for immigrants who entered the country legally but were not complying with federal immigration law, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/06/nation/la-na-illegal-immigration-20110306" target="_hplink">according to the LA Times.</a> <strong>Status: </strong> Law went into effect on 03/15/2011 House: 59-15 (03/04/2011) Senate: 22-5 (03/04/2011)
The Most Comprehensive: Florida HB-1C
Florida's immigration law prohibits any restrictions on the enforcement of federal immigration law. It makes it unlawful for undocumented immigrants within the state to apply for work or work as an independent contractor. It forbids employers from hiring immigrants if they are aware of their illegal status and requires work applicants to go through the E-verify system in order to check their Social Security number. <strong>Status: </strong>effective since October 1st, 2010
The Hot Seat: Alabama HB 56
The new immigration law in Alabama is considered the toughest in the land, even harder than Arizona's SB 1070. It prohibits law enforcement officers from releasing an arrested person before his or her immigration status is determined. It does not allow undocumented immigrants to receive any state benefit, and prohibits them from enrolling in public colleges, applying for work or soliciting work in a public space. The law also prohibits landlords from renting property to undocumented immigrants, and employers from hiring them. It requires residents to prove they are citizens before they become eligible to vote. The law asked every school in the state to submit an annual report with the number of presumed undocumented students, but this part, along with others, were suspended by federal courts. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved June 2nd, 2011 House: 73-28 (04/05/2011) Senate: 23-11 (05/05/2011) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/longislandwins/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by longislandwins</a>