One way to make roads safer

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012 1:15 a.m.CDT
Former Gov. Jim Edgar

For years, I have advocated for sensible solutions to our broken immigration system that are morally right, economically sound, and politically smart. Here in Illinois, I am proud to support Senate Bill 957, legislation that requires unlicensed immigrant drivers to obtain Temporary Visitor Driver’s Licenses (TVDLs).

Currently, Illinois requires a Social Security number to obtain a driver’s license. This means that there are some 250,000 undocumented drivers who cannot obtain a valid driver’s license – or, therefore, auto insurance. But we know that they are driving every day because they need to get to work, take their kids to school, shop at grocery stores, and go to church.

Before my two terms as Illinois governor, I served as the Illinois secretary of state, where highway safety was my top priority. I know that we are all safer when every driver on the road is trained, tested, licensed and insured.

Under the current situation, those of us with auto insurance subsidize those who are uninsured. If just half of the 250,000 unlicensed immigrants get licensed and insured, then Illinois policyholders will save $46 million a year in policy payments.

Since New Mexico began issuing licenses to undocumented immigrants in 2003, traffic fatalities fell 23 percent and alcohol-related crashes decreased 32 percent.

Illinois currently offers a Temporary Visitor Driver’s License to immigrants with non-work visas. The TVDLs are visually distinct, with a purple background. They are marked on the front that they are not valid for identification (meaning that they cannot be used to vote, purchase a firearm, board a plane, or enter a federal building).

SB 957 expands the TVDL to include all those here and driving to be able to do so legally, with insurance.

This legislation is supported by many law enforcement officials because police officers want to know whom they are stopping, and they do not like wasting scarce police resources arresting and jailing people because they cannot obtain a driver’s license.

First responders and hospitals support this legislation because it helps them identify who they are treating.

Business supports this legislation because these immigrants are an important part of our economy.

I know that the idea of extending driving privileges to those who are not here legally rankles some. But as a society, we have an obligation to pursue sensible solutions to difficult problems.

No one believes that all of these people will be deported – but the current situation is not good for our economy, for our homeland security, or for the immigrants and their families.

Illinois SB 957 helps us to take one sensible step forward, and the reward is that all our highways will be safer.

Note to readers – Jim Edgar served as Illinois governor from 1991 to 1999 and previously was secretary of state. He is also a member of the Highway Safety Coalition, a broad spectrum of law enforcement, business, labor, faith and community leaders who support requiring all Illinois motorists to get tested, licensed and insured.

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