It’s a fact of life that getting around in Oklahoma requires a driver’s license. Because immigrants in Oklahoma who are undocumented are barred from getting one, the lack of a license presents a major challenge for 85,000 Oklahomans to get to work, doctor’s appointments, the grocery store, or take children to school. Allowing all immigrants access to driver’s licenses would increase road safety, boost the economy, and give immigrants a form of identification and peace of mind. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have already passed legislation to extend driving privileges to more of their residents — Oklahoma should too.
More licenses means safer roads
Road safety relies on drivers being knowledgeable on the rules of the road. We use driver’s tests to ensure that Oklahomans are prepared to drive, so preventing undocumented people from getting a license because of their immigration status hampers road safety because it limits the number of drivers who have been tested on their skills. In states that have passed driver’s license expansion bills, issuing driver’s licenses to more individuals has improved traffic safety. For instance, after California extended driver’s licenses to a wider portion of their population, hit-and-run incidents dropped between 7 and 10 percent and saved drivers about $3.5 million in out-of-pocket costs for car repairs. Similarly, Connecticut saw a 9 percent drop in hit-and-run accidents in the span of two years after creating paths for immigrants to earn a driver’s license. Having a license reduces immigrant’s fears that if they stay at the site of an accident, they will be in an even more complicated situation for driving without a license.
Increasing access to driver’s licenses would economically benefit everyone
Every year, Oklahoma drivers contribute millions to the economy through the various costs associated with owning and driving a vehicle. Much of this money goes directly to the state to pay for crucial services like public schools and infrastructure, so increasing the number of people who can get licenses would likewise increase this form of revenue and even lower insurance premiums for already licensed drivers. For instance, assuming people who are undocumented get licenses at the same rate as current Oklahoma drivers, the state would add nearly 73,000 additional licensed drivers, which would bring the state almost $2.8 million in license fees alone. These drivers would also bring in additional revenue in sales taxes from gas stations and gasoline taxes, where the impact would be harder to accurately calculate but would be no less significant.
Oklahomans wouldn’t just see an increase in state revenue, they would also see an increased savings in their own pocketbook. In states like Oklahoma with restrictive licensing rules for immigrants who are undocumented, insurance premiums are an estimated $17.22 higher per year than in states with licenses available to all drivers. Allowing more individuals to get their driver’s license would result in about $39.6 million annual premium savings for all Oklahomans, according to an OK Policy analysis. Local insurance companies would see an increase in revenue of more than $158 million as well.
A form of identification is invaluable
While the economic and public safety benefits of expanding access to driver’s licenses are important, the human element is just as crucial. A driver’s license serves as a form of identification that plays an important role in people’s everyday lives, from opening a bank account, renting an apartment, or getting a library card. Having an ID gives immigrants a sense of normalcy and eases concerns of interacting with law enforcement and other state government officials.
A very real and persistent fear in communities with undocumented immigrants is that a traffic stop or contact with the police will result in deportation. For instance, in some parts of San Diego, the majority of individuals identified for deportation were only charged for small traffic offenses. Allowing immigrants who are undocumented to get their driver’s licenses would strengthen trust in local law enforcement. It can make undocumented immigrants feel safer in reporting crimes or coming forward as witnesses and help first responders confirm the identities of individuals. However, there must be strong privacy laws around driver’s license information to make sure it isn’t used for unrelated immigration enforcement purposes.
Lawmakers need to legislate for all Oklahomans
Allowing more Oklahomans to get their driver’s licenses after being tested on the rules of the road would improve public safety and positively impact state revenue by the expanded pool of residents paying license fees. This past legislative session, Oklahoma lawmakers had the opportunity to pass Senate Bill 1591, a bill that would have allowed taxpayers who file their taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to get their driver’s license. It would have been a limited expansion, but it would have impacted about 33,000 Oklahoman immigrants. The bill passed the Senate, but failed to get a hearing in the House. Legislators should take up the issue again next legislative session. Driver’s licenses are an issue that go beyond the road, and ensuring more Oklahomans can acquire them will improve everyday life for individuals and the community. All Oklahomans will be better served if we modernize our driver’s license laws.