State Should Reinstate Licenses for the Undocumented

Albany could make New York’s roads safer with one simple measure: reinstating rules that allowed people who are not in the United States legally to apply for driver’s licenses. 

Until about 13 years ago, New York was among the states that allowed undocumented people to seek licenses. This made sense; many were going to be driving anyway but without meeting the state’s basic requirements for the privilege to do so. For undocumented residents, an arrest for driving without a license can quickly lead to the deportation pipeline. This can separate families and deprive employers of much-needed help. 

For many of us, getting a license is in the distant past. First, you have a vision check and sit for a rules-of-the-road exam to get a learner’s permit. Practice and a driver’s education course come next. Finally, it is road test time, and not everyone passes on the first try. There is even a six-month probation period for new drivers, who get an automatic 60-day suspension for moving violation convictions.

Licenses can be taken away, too, for insurance lapses. Taxi and limousine drivers must get their own livery licenses, and there is a special license for motorcycles. 

A public safety issue going largely unnoticed is that many New York drivers have not had their eyes examined. This means those who should be wearing glasses or contact lenses when on the road might not even know it. Alarming, too, is that an unknown subset of drivers of large commercial vehicles have not had their ability evaluated. Another concern is that unlicensed drivers do not pay application or renewal fees, meaning licensed drivers are in effect subsidizing them.

In the absence of a coherent immigration process, it is essential that the state assure basic road safety. Testing the people already driving here simply makes sense.