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Op-Ed: Equal Access to Licenses Will Make Roads Safer for Everyone


By Shannon Wong

Making our roads safer is something all of us can get behind. That’s why momentum is growing for a bill that advances equal access to driver’s licenses.

When New Yorkers can get a driver’s license if they pass all the tests – regardless of their immigration status – our roads become safer for everyone. We know this because that’s what happened in other states that passed similar bills.

Under legislation known as the Green Light bill, undocumented New Yorkers who pass their driving tests would be able to obtain driver’s licenses – meaning one less reason that a simple police traffic stop could lead to arrest or deportation, or families being separated by immigration authorities.

This bill doesn’t change any of the basic qualifications necessary to obtain a license, it simply provides equal access. So, like everyone else in the state, undocumented New Yorkers would still have to pass their road test, provide evidence of state residence, and get insurance.

That process means vetted drivers and safer roads for everyone. A dozen states have passed similar bills already. For example, Connecticut began allowing equal access to driver’s licenses in 2015, and since then, hit-and-run-crashes have fallen.

New Mexico and Utah saw similar results. Since 2003, when it removed barriers to equal access to driver’s licenses, New Mexico has seen big dips in both its traffic fatality rate and the rate of uninsured vehicles on its roads. Utah also experienced record lows in traffic fatalities in 2012 and 2013, after it passed comparable legislation.

What’s more, the Green Light bill will generate an estimated $57 million a year in new state revenue through things like registration fees, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute. And it will save New Yorkers millions of dollars in lower car insurance rates.

The win-win argument for Green Light has won support from a diverse cross-section of the state. Leading immigrant rights groups are joined by organizations like the Business Council of New York State, the state’s largest business advocacy group, and 1199SEIU, the nation’s largest health care workers’ union, in backing the bill.

Supporters like my organization, the New York Civil Liberties Union, understand that driving is a necessity for many people in our state, especially in the Hudson Valley.

People shouldn’t have to fear outsized immigration consequences when they need to get behind the wheel to get to work, take their children to school or make family appointments.

Some opponents of the legislation insist that only citizens should have the right to a driver’s license. But the truth is our immigration system is badly broken and there’s no signs that it will be fixed anytime soon. For many immigrant New Yorkers, there’s no way to come out of the shadows and apply for citizenship without the risk of being ripped away from their families.

We don’t have to wait for comprehensive immigration reform to make our roads safer for everyone. Lawmakers should give the green light to equal access to driver’s licenses now.

This article originally appeared in the Times Herald-Record.


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