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Giving Driver's Licenses To Undocumented Immigrants May Have Led To Spike In Insured Drivers

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Photo by Robbie via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr
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Bill AB 60, which allows undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver's license, was hotly debated before it was signed into law. Advocates said that, among the various benefits that would come from the bill, it would get undocumented drivers to go through the Department of Motor Vehicles, where they'd be vetted before they're allowed onto the road. LAPD Police Chief Beck echoed this sentiment in 2012: he said that roads would become safer after undocumented drivers have been ushered through the "rigorous testing process" of obtaining a license, and surmised that hit-and-runs would be less common if drivers weren't afraid of being caught without a license.

One of the other benefits, apparently, is that it may have led to more vehicles being insured. The California Department of Insurance released a statement today saying that, in 2015 (the first year that AB 60 went into effect), "the number of insured vehicles increased by 200,000 more vehicles than would have been expected." The statement adds that, in the three previous years, the percentage of insured vehicles had risen at the same rate as the number of registered vehicles, which suggests that the recent bump is an aberration (e.g. possibly a result of AB 60).

So undocumented immigrants can get car insurance? Yes, as the only thing you really need to get car insurance (aside from the dough) is a driver's license.

A CDI spokesperson wrote to LAist to say that this spike in insured vehicles is a good thing, because "It means that your chances of being in a collision with an uninsured motorists are reduced—that's good for all of us." Seems straight-forward enough! But how, exactly, do we benefit in real-life terms? As explained by The Zebra, a website that compares insurance quotes, dealing with an uninsured driver can be a massive pain:

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If you get into a crash with an uninsured driver, it's likely that you'll be dealing with someone who lacks (or is unwilling to disclose) financial means or proper identification, or is reluctant to undertake a task legally required by U.S. residents. In this case, uninsured motorist coverage is your best protection. If you don't have uninsured motorist coverage, your only other form of possible compensation is the courts, but if the other party didn't have the means to purchase auto insurance, the likelihood that they will be able to pay judgments (if you win) isn't great.

Which is to say that, if everyone had car insurance, this mess would be a whole lot simpler.

The CDI treads carefully, however, saying that the connection between AB 60 and the spike in insured vehicles is one that "needs more study." There are different variables that complicate the matter. For instance, a single insured vehicle may be driven by multiple drivers, so it's inaccurate to make a strict correlation between the number of driver's licenses and the number of insured vehicles. The CDI also noted that lower gas prices and an improving economy may have led more citizens to buy car insurance.

About 605,000 driver licenses were issued under AB 60 in its first year of existence. These licenses have special designations; they indicate on the front that "federal limits apply", and state on the back that they're not to be used for "official federal purposes."