Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants: Public safety necessity or privilege?

The 405 Freeway in Los Angeles, October 2008
The 405 Freeway in Los Angeles, October 2008
Eyeshotpictures/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A post last week asking readers for their thoughts on whether driver's licenses should be granted to undocumented immigrants, as recently suggested by Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, has made for a predictably lively discussion on the site.

The post cited a few statistics on unlicensed drivers, not all of whom are undocumented. Among other things, unlicensed drivers are involved in a disproportionate share of hit-and-run crashes. The argument made by Beck and others who support his position is that undocumented immigrants drive out of necessity anyway, so why not put them through the same rigorous testing as everyone else as a way of making the roads safer?

Those who disagree with the idea, however, see driver's licenses as a privilege that should be reserved for people who haven't violated immigration laws.

Here's what some readers, who were pretty much split, had to say. Vprice6666 wrote:

A drivers license is privilege, not a right.  No one should be granted a drivers license unless they are legally in the US. Illegal immigrants are criminals and should be punished as such. Driving without a license and illegally crossing our borders without permission. Equal justice for all is the only way for a society to survive. Driving Privilege - Driving is a Privilege, Not a Right

Hammered agreed with Chief Beck's public safety approach:

It makes perfect sense to document illegals so that we can keep tabs on them and issue provisional licenses so that they understand the laws, have a properly registered vehicle including insurance. These provisional licenses are for driving priviledges only. They're going to drive anyway so...

Jmontemira56 agreed there's a need to license drivers, bringing up the auto insurance issue:

That is exactly what the government need to do, we need only insured motorists in California and the only way is having Driver License.

And HernandezUSA preferred a macro approach:

heres common sense idea that makes roads SAFER

enforce the dang laws and keep illegals off our roads and our country!

Three states currently grant driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants.

What do you think? Is public safety a good enough reason to pursue the approach supported by Beck and other city officials? Should a different approach be taken?