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EDITORIAL: Safer Roads for Everyone

Mar 19, 2007

By Chicago Tribune

Mar. 20--Every time you hop in the car to go to work, fetch groceries or pick up the kids, you're sharing the road with thousands of unlicensed, uninsured drivers. They can't get a license or insurance because they're living here illegally, but they need to get to work, fetch groceries and pick up their kids too. So they drive.

This week, the Illinois House is expected to vote on a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to drive legally.

It's a tough sell. But if you can't abide the idea of extending legal privileges to people who are breaking the law just by being here, we ask you to go back and read the first paragraph again.

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights estimates that there are 250,000 unlicensed immigrant drivers in Illinois. They've never been tested on the rules of the road; they've never had to demonstrate that they can parallel park. Without a license, they can't get auto insurance either, which means the rest of us are on the hook if those drivers are involved in an accident. With the immigrant population booming in the suburbs, where public transit often isn't an option, the situation is getting worse.

HB 1100, marketed as the Roadway Safety and Mandatory Insurance Coverage Act, would allow people who have no Social Security number to supply other documents and get a "driver's certificate" instead of a license. It would be used to drive legally but would not be accepted for federal ID purposes, such as boarding an airplane, and could not be used to buy a firearm. It would enable the driver to get auto insurance and, in fact, could be revoked unless insurance is obtained within 30 days. To cover administrative costs, applicants would pay an extra $50. They also would have to be fingerprinted and photographed.

Those requirements might deter immigrants who are worried about being deported or who don't want to pay the extra fee or buy insurance.

But there are incentives for immigrants too. Not the least of them is the desire to drive without breaking the law. That's why many immigrants who are not legal residents already register with the Internal Revenue Service and pay taxes, for example. There also are risks associated with not having a license or insurance. A routine traffic violation can turn into a very costly experience and can even result in deportation. Courts and jails are clogged with offenders who don't have licenses or insurance, not necessarily because they don't want to drive legally but because they can't. Still, they drive.

The best argument in favor of the bill is that it will reduce the number of unqualified drivers, making Illinois' roads safer for all of us.


Copyright (c) 2007, Chicago Tribune

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.

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