Unlicensed drivers in California are nearly three times more likely to cause a fatal crash, according to a report by the state's Department of Motor Vehicles.
The report, which looked at a 23-year-span of data, found that drivers who were unlicensed or had revoked or suspended licenses were more dangerous than validly licensed drivers. Unlicensed drivers were 2.73 times more likely be in a fatal accident. Drivers with suspended or revoked licenses were 2.6 times as likely.
The report says the number of unlicensed drivers has increased since the passage of a law in 1994 that bars undocumented immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses in California. Rates of fatal crashes have held steady since the 1994 law.
Although state and national fatality rates are falling, the number of fatal crashes involving drivers without valid licenses increased by 17 percent nationally from 1998 to 2007. Over the same period in California, such crashes increased by 49 percent.
Unlicensed driving is a significant problem in California. The Los Angeles Times estimates that there are about 2 million unlicensed drivers – the vast majority of whom are undocumented immigrants.
Immigrant rights advocates say offering driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants would address this public safety concern.
"This has always been first and foremost a public safety issue. I am happy the DMV has issued a report outlining what I've been promoting for so many years," former state Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, who tried unsuccessfully nine times to pass legislation that would offer driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants. "Our highways will return to being the safest when we test, license and insure all drivers."
Earlier this week, advocates in Los Angeles called for the state to offer temporary driver's licenses, as was recently approved in Illinois.
"We're trying to avoid a bigger problem," said Francisco Moreno, of the Council of Mexico Federations in North America. "It becomes a criminal problem when they hit and run."
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has supported offering driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. He says it would reduce the number of hit-and-runs, but no data from the department shows a correlation between unlicensed driving and hit-and-run accidents.