Next for Newly Licensed Immigrant Drivers: Car Insurance

Poster made by Rep. Luis Alejo to celebrate passage of California's undocumented immigrant license law

Lines are long outside of Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) offices in Nevada and Maryland, where media outlets are reporting an influx of undocumented immigrants seeking newly available licenses that will allow them to legally drive on roads there.

The states join several others with similar programs.

The licenses can be obtained after passing sets of written and driving tests and are available through new Nevada and Maryland laws that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.

Under those laws, newly licensed drivers—who won’t have to prove U.S. residency for licenses—will be required to buy car insurance coverage and be subject to the same traffic safety laws as other motorists.

Thousands of Tests Administered in Nevada, Maryland

According to the Nevada DMV, hundreds of written tests were administered daily since the Driver Authorization Card (DAC) program kicked off last week. The surge “forced the agency to turn away applicants because driver examination capacities had been reached.” More than 500 driver authorization cards have been issued, DMV officials there said.

Meanwhile in Maryland, the Baltimore Sun reported in late-December that almost 13,000 people applied to take driving tests “in the coming weeks.” The state crafted a new licensure process that will allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a “federally non-compliant DL/ID.”

Now, the Car Insurance

Auto coverage issues have stepped into the spotlight as a new customer base of licensed drivers begins to take shape.

Troy Dillard, Nevada’s DMV director, said that officials are looking to strengthen the rate of insured drivers in the state.

“Our law was patterned after Utah’s law and … more insured motorists were a byproduct of the Utah law,” he said in a statement. “If we can replicate that in Nevada we will have more drivers on the road who know the rules and have a higher rate of insured motorists. In the end, that would benefit all of us.”

According to insurance regulators in California, where DMV officials are currently crafting procedures governing its licensure program, an influx of insured drivers could mean cheaper auto coverage policies for drivers there. To date, California is the state with the largest population of undocumented immigrants with an immigrant licensing program (a campaign poster for that program is pictured).

The state’s population will be available to coverage providers in the California auto insurance marketplace in upcoming years, but one thing is already certain about it: the population will be large.

Undocumented immigrants have already provided a good base of business in Nevada, where the Las Vegas Review-Journal profiled a broker who said she had sold thousands of policies through American Access Casualty Company (AACC) to immigrants who hadn’t even had driver’s licenses before SB 303, the Nevada law authorizing the DAC program passed by lawmakers in 2013.

Indeed, the AACC website says that the carrier accepts customers who are “Mexican, international and [have] no driver licenses.” The coverage provider is based in Illinois, where state officials are rolling out their own program for “temporary visitor driver’s licenses” (TVDLs).

Meanwhile, the Reno Gazette-Journal (RGJ) reported that the choice of covering this new driving population will vary from insurer to insurer. However, DAC applicants will “need insurance coverage to take the drivers skills test and register their cars,” RGJ’s Marcella Corona said in a video report.

According to Online Auto Insurance (OAI) reports, immigrant rights groups have noted examples in states without immigrant licensing laws where insurers have provided coverage to license-less, undocumented immigrants.

Before Illinois passed its law opening up TVDLs, a state-based immigrant advocacy group said that undocumented drivers were often shorted by insurers when the time came for a claims payout.

More news is expected around the U.S. relating to immigrant licenses, which pundits have pegged as a central issue in the nationwide debate about immigration reform. For example, voters in Oregon, where lawmakers passed a law last year allowing “driver cards” for undocumented immigrants, will ultimately decide on the issue through a referendum in November.

More information about the dozen states nationwide that have similar programs that are currently in effect or will be taking effect can be found on OAI’s FAQ on insurance for undocumented immigrants.

Photo courtesy of California Assemblyman Luis Alejo

About Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen is an enterprising journalist who reported for Patch.com and the Desert Dispatch and was the editor in chief of the Guardian (the twice-weekly newspaper at the University of California, San Diego) before coming to Online Auto Insurance News.

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