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DMV report adds to debate on licenses for illegal immigrants

January 16, 2013 |  9:03 am

Tomas Venancio, 47, right, joins others at a news conference at La Placita Olvera in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday to announce community actions to push for driver's licenses for illegal immigrants in California. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

A recently released Department of Motor Vehicles report is adding fuel to the debate over whether illegal immigrants should be eligible for drivers' licenses.

Unlicensed drivers in California — the vast majority of whom are illegal immigrants — are nearly three times as likely to cause a fatal crash as licensed drivers, according to the study.

The report suggests that merely meeting the modest requirements necessary to get a license — passing a written exam and driving test — could improve road safety and help reduce the several thousand fatalities that occur in the state each year.

"If you don't hold people accountable to acceptable standards, then we get people that aren't prepared and don't have the skill set," said Tyler Izen, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League.

Immigrant rights groups say granting such licenses would reduce fatalities and costly uninsured motorist claims. Insurance companies paid out $634 million in claims for collisions related to uninsured motorists in 2009, according to the most recent data from the state.

It "really goes against public safety because the current law forces people who would otherwise be properly licensed to drive without one," said Angela Sanbrano, board president for the Central American Resource Center in Los Angeles.

Critics, however, argue giving licenses to undocumented immigrants merely rewards illegal activity.

"One study shouldn't trump the obvious — if you don't want illegal aliens in the country, why do you want to encourage them to be on the roads?" said Bob Dane, spokesman for the Washington-based Federation for American Immigration Reform. "It just defies common sense."

The DMV report looked at 23 years of data on fatal accidents. Its conclusions were similar to the last such report in 1997, which looked at accident data from 1987 to 1992. The latest report was also the first analysis since a 1994 change in the state law that required all licensed drivers show proof of legal residency, which significantly increased the number of unlicensed drivers.

Rough estimates put the number of unlicensed drivers at about 2 million, compared with the approximately 24 million licensed drivers. Many of the unlicensed motorists say they would get licenses if they could.

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-- Ben Poston

Photo: Tomas Venancio, 47, right, joins others at a news conference at La Placita Olvera in downtown Los Angeles to announce community actions to push for drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants in California. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

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