Vehicle of change: licensing undocumented residents

License, please: Issuing New York State driver's licenses to undocumented residents would increase state revenues and road safety, according to Jeff Guillot.

The face of our region is changing, both politically and socioeconomically, and it’s time we had some tough conversations. So, let’s get right to it: Long Island lawmakers and stakeholders should embrace state legislation that allows undocumented people to obtains driver’s licenses.

Let’s throw the morality and racial politics out of the conversation – our region has dealt with enough of that. I could wax poetic about fundamental fairness and social justice, but this isn’t really the right venue for that. Fact of the matter is, this initiative is good for the innovation economy.

It costs money to get a license. If this legislation were enacted, undocumented folks would have to go about the same process that most of us went through when we turned 16: a permit, a road test, registration fees. The Fiscal Policy Institute estimates the state would make $26 million in the program’s first year and further estimates the state would issue 250,000 new licenses (50,000 of those on Long Island), delivering another $49 million for state and local governments.

It costs even more money to buy and insure vehicles. The FPI estimates that car sales would increase statewide by 2 percent and – perhaps even more importantly – the number of uninsured vehicles would drop dramatically.

The proof is in the pudding: Since New Mexico began issuing licenses to undocumented people in 2003, the rate of uninsured vehicles has decreased almost 24 percentage points. In Utah, the rate of uninsured vehicles plunged from 28 percent to 8 percent.

New York is a no-fault state when it comes to car accidents, so having more insured cars on the road benefits everyone – even your auto insurance costs will invariably decrease. Further, New Mexico saw a precipitous drop in both alcohol-related crashes  (down 32 percent) and traffic fatalities (down 23 percent) after they implemented their program.

Jeff Guillot: Driver education.

This is especially important on Long Island, where it’s no secret that our mass-transit systems are pretty abysmal. I assume most readers of this article have never ridden the Suffolk County Transit bus system; it’s terribly inefficient. More licensed drivers on the road means less people relying on a very unreliable system to get to work.

Areas like the Hauppauge Industrial Park and the North Fork’s wine region will demonstrably benefit from having more people able to travel from points west to work in industries like manufacturing, construction and agriculture.

The region wins when more people can afford to live here. For decades, stakeholders and politicians have bemoaned the purported exodus of young people from the region. One way to fight population stagnation is to create a society where more people can afford homes and other large purchases.

Simply put, licensed drivers are more likely to purchase larger items such as homes, vehicles and household appliances. One of the reasons Amazon and others have never considered Long Island is because we don’t have enough skilled workers readily available in the immediate area.

Passage of this legislation would generate revenue across the board, increase the number of potential homeowners in the region and make it easier for companies to hire skilled workers here. Seems like a no-brainer to me: New York should join the other 12 states that have already taken this step and pass this bill into law during this legislative session.

Jeff Guillot is a political science professor at Suffolk County Community College and a founding partner at Huntington- and New York City-based political consulting firm Millennial Strategies.


1 Comment on "Vehicle of change: licensing undocumented residents"

  1. Greg Demetriou | April 13, 2019 at 6:45 AM |

    Your argument focuses only on the money generating potential of awarding drivers licensed to undocumented residents. You fail however to acknowledge that undocumented means illegal. The fundamental problem is not the small amounts of money the state wants to capture but ignoring the eight hundred pound behemoth in the room. Ignoring or erasing the consequences of illegality is wrong.

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