Study: Giving driver’s licenses to undocumented RIers would increase safety

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants in Rhode Island would lead to safer roads and potentially, better economic opportunities, according to a new study from Roger Williams University.

The university’s School of Law and Latino Policy Institute released the study Thursday morning, at a roundtable discussion at their Providence campus.

The study’s authors, including professors Deborah Gonzalez and Peter Margulies and researcher J. Alejandro Tirado-Alcaraz, found states who provide driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants don’t see a massive influx of them — but those states do have fewer traffic fatality rates on average, and auto insurance costs are lower. Poverty rates also decline faster in those states, too.

Led by the professors, a group of Roger Williams students looked at data from the Division of Motor Vehicles, the Division of Taxation, and the Department of Revenue in Rhode Island, as well as data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Department of Commerce.

The analysis said it’s estimated that Rhode Island has 30,000 undocumented immigrant residents, as well as the largest percentage of uninsured motorists in New England. The study also cites a AAA Foundation report that showed unlicensed drivers were 19 percent more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash — and those who could go through the driver’s education and licensing process would be assured of knowing driving laws.

The study authors noted that the Rhode Island General Assembly has grappled with the issue several times, and proposals to give undocumented immigrants licenses have been voted down. In principle, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi told Target 12 Chief Investigator Tim White on this week’s edition of Newsmakers that while they had not read the report, they were against the licenses initiative. Mattiello claimed most of his colleagues felt the same way.

“I think you will find that, overwhelmingly, they would say, no, please stay away from the issue. That’s because they reflect the will of their constituents,” Mattiello said.