You’re familiar with the slogans. “The American Dream.” “The Land of Opportunity.” “Home of the Free and the Brave.” It’s those ideals that make this country great and make people want to live here. When they come, they wish to do those everyday things: working, shopping, driving. The problem is, driving a car properly is a learned skill, and not everyone who gets behind the wheel does so legally. This is particularly an issue for undocumented immigrants -- foreign nationals who reside here illegally are prevented from getting a license. Driving without a license could mean not driving safely, which is a hazard to everyone on the road.
The fact that so many undocumented immigrants don’t have driver’s licenses represents a larger problem in both the United States and in Florida. We rely heavily on undocumented immigrants because they are an important part of our communities, our economy and our labor force. We have not created a system that offers these immigrants a way to get driver’s licenses. As we’ll see, our current approach creates a deficit of safety that impacts all of us.
A 2014 study by the Pew Research Center estimated that unauthorized immigrants make up 3.5 percent of the total U.S. population and that most of them live in just six states. California tops the list, followed by Texas and Florida. In fact, the greater Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach region is home to approximately 450,000 unauthorized immigrants and ranks as the U.S. metropolitan area with the fifth-largest undocumented population. How many undocumented immigrants are driving? There is no way to tell for sure, but Florida does issue a number to every unlicensed driver that is stopped by law enforcement. To date, more than 200,000 numbers have been assigned.
Many undocumented immigrants drive out of the necessity of getting to work, risking a traffic stop that could lead to deportation. Although a few states allow undocumented immigrants to get a license using a tax identification number, a passport or proof of residence, the majority do not.
Unlicensed drivers are unsafe and dangerous to others. Undocumented immigrants are rarely licensed and have no system set in place to obtain one. This is a pervasive problem throughout South Florida, with about 450,000 undocumented immigrants residing in the greater Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach area alone.
Unable to get a license, many also cannot get insurance, leaving them very vulnerable in the event of an accident. That vulnerability plus fear of deportation and vehicle repossession cause some unlicensed illegals to panic and flee an accident scene. Just recently, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who has been in the U.S. for more than 20 years was sentenced to prison on charges stemming from leaving the scene of a fatal crash in Boynton Beach. The man did not have a driver’s license, yet was operating a pickup truck that fatally struck a motorcyclist.
The more unlicensed drivers we have on our roads, the greater the impact on driver safety. One report estimates that they are almost three times more likely than a licensed driver to cause a deadly collision. Having a driver’s license is a privilege granted to those who have demonstrated that they know the rules of the road and have successfully passed a test on them. It’s in all our best interests to ensure that anyone who will be operating a vehicle can get a license without the fear of deportation.
Undocumented immigrants deserve the opportunity to obtain licenses regardless of their status. All motorists should also be safe in the knowledge that the everyone driving on our roads has been through the same testing and licensing process and has insurance in the event of a collision. If you’ve ever had the unfortunate experience of being involved in an accident with an uninsured motorist, then you know first-hand what kind of challenges this presents.
If you or someone you love has been injured by a motorist who chose to drive without a license, you need an experienced attorney to effectively represent your interests. At Stabinski & Funt, P.A., we have successfully represented victims throughout Florida who have been seriously hurt by negligent drivers. We have also assisted families who have lost loved ones in traffic accidents. For over 45 years, we have been helping injured motorists, passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists put their lives back on track, and we are ready to help you. For advice on how to proceed next, or if you have any questions about this topic, call 305-643-3100 or fill out a free case evaluation form.