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Wednesday, September 20, 2000

Play Fair With Immigrant Drivers

Seven years ago, when anti-immigrant sentiment ran high in California, the Legislature passed a law requiring driver's license applicants to provide a Social Security number and proof of legal U.S. residency. Then-Gov. Pete Wilson and the sponsors of the bill simplistically and falsely reasoned that denying a driver's license would not only deter illegal immigrants from driving but would push some of them back home. Actually, the law sent thousands of unlicensed, uninsured, untrained and untested drivers onto California's roads and streets.

Now, Gov. Gray Davis has an opportunity to correct that mistake by signing AB 1463. This bill, which passed the Legislature by a substantial margin in both houses, would allow immigrants who are officially seeking legal residency to apply for a California driver's license.

A driver's license attests that a person has demonstrated a certain level of skill and knowledge. Also of importance are the requirements that drivers be licensed to obtain insurance and that proof of insurance be provided to register a vehicle. California's Department of Insurance estimates that more than 20% of the cars driven in the state are uninsured; the figure rises to 40% in poor immigrant communities. In 1997, 32% of motorists in Los Angeles County were uninsured. The cost of uninsured drivers is paid by those who do have insurance, in the form of high uninsured driver premiums, and by taxpayers, who bear the medical and other social welfare costs of uninsured drivers who are hurt in accidents.

AB 1463 would affect many thousands in California who have applied for legal residency. Davis, with his signature, can help make them licensed, insured--and probably safer--drivers.