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Controversial 'driving privilege cards' allow illegal immigrants to
get auto insurance

 

Crawford Frazer

Should a driver need a valid driver's license to be eligible for auto insurance? In Utah, Washington and New Mexico, a driver can get insurance without a license if he or she has a driving privilege card.

These driving privilege cards are a source of contention for the states that have them. Opponents believe they allow undocumented immigrants to obtain insurance and thus drive legally. Proponents counter that privilege cards increase the number of insured drivers.

Who needs a driving privilege card?

According to the Utah Department of Safety, a person who cannot establish a legal presence and who is ineligible for a U.S. Social Security number is not eligible for a commercial driver's license or ID card. Instead, such a person would need to get an individual tax ID number from the IRS. That person then could obtain a driving privilege card (although it would expire on the person's birthday in the first year from the date the card was issued) and, with it, acquire auto insurance.

Who is eligible for a driving privilege card?

In Utah, those applying for driving privilege cards must:

  • Live in the state for at least six months; the person must show two forms of proof of state residency.
  • Must not have been temporarily assigned to the state by an employer, religious organization or government agency.
  • Show proof of a Social Security Number or individual tax ID number.
  • Provide proof of identity.

Finally, your driving privileges cannot have been suspended, revoked, disqualified or denied in another state or country

Do driving privilege cards make roads safer?

Essentially, a driving privilege card provides a form of legal protection and driving privileges, which is why opponents believe an undocumented immigrant should not be able to obtain one. But what about supporters' claims that driving privilege cards increase the number of insured drivers by giving them a means to purchase auto insurance?

Utah's Office of Legislative Auditor General released a study on the issue in January 2008. The study found:

  • Roughly 76 percent of those with driving privilege cards also had valid auto insurance.
  • Roughly 82 percent of those with driver's licenses also had valid auto insurance.

The conclusion the office reached was that people with driving privilege cards were getting insured at about the same rate as those with licenses -- and that driving privilege cards were working in terms of increasing the number of insured drivers.

Potential issues

Although driving privilege cards allow drivers who may be undocumented immigrants to obtain auto insurance, they also might create problems for those who rely on them because they can't get a driver's license.

The National Immigration Law Center criticizes state laws that limit licensed drivers to those who have Social Security numbers. Such laws, it says, create a "second class" of drivers by identifying them as those who may be living in the United States illegally.

For example, holders of driving privilege cards might be treated unfairly by insurers in the form of higher premiums. Moreover, police officers might discriminate driving holders of privilege cards -- which then could dissuade immigrants from applying for driving privilege cards and, in turn, auto insurance.

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