Massachusetts Considers ‘Safe Driving Bill’ for Immigrant Drivers

Massachusetts State HouseThere will be more properly covered drivers in Massachusetts if lawmakers there pass a measure to remove immigration status as a consideration when issuing drivers licenses, according to supporters of the “Safe Driving Bill.”

“Severe winter weather” shut down the state Senate and House on Wednesday, pushing back the first hearing scheduled for the bill, H 3285, before the Joint Committee on Transportation.

According to a Facebook posting from Safe Driving Coalition MA, the H 3285 will be heard by the Joint Committee on Transportation on March 5.

One of the groups attending that would have attended the February hearing to offer its support for H 3285 would have been the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA).

MIRA said in a statement that the bill would “go a long way towards making sure all Massachusetts drivers are trained, licensed and insured.” MIRA had planned to submit public testimony at the hearing from Carly McClain, who the group said suffered car crash injuries when she was hit by a man who was driving without insurance or a license.

In her testimony, McClain would have promoted the Safe Driving Bill as a “solution to the problem of road safety.”

“If the gentleman who hit my car had had the ability to apply for a license, he might have then passed a road test that would have made him a safer driver,” she said.

Such efforts have ramped up recently across the U.S. to varying degrees of success. Laws in Nevada and Maryland allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for drivers licenses went into effect early last month; those states reported departments of motor vehicles crowded with applicants seeking licensure.

But a similar measure in Oregon, passed by legislators and signed into law by the governor there last year, is on hold until voters decide on it in November.

Car Insurance Plays Major Role in License Proposals

Traffic safety is one of the more commonly cited benefits that these statewide proposals to ease licensing requirements share. Traffic safety was cited again by supporters of H 3285 in the Bay State, where Safe Driving Coalition MA said the bill would “increase compliance” with Massachusetts car insurance requirements.

“[T]he Safe Driving Bill would credibly require all motorists to share the responsibility of mandatory liability insurance,” the group said in a statement. “By reducing the number of unlicensed, uninsured drivers, this bill would reduce the unfair burden of insurance costs carried disproportionately by currently licensed drivers.”

According to the bill’s language, “a holder of a license issued under this section shall be subject to any and all provisions of … mandatory insurance requirements and penalties.”

Massachusetts drivers on the road without the state’s minimum auto coverage face fines up to $500 on a first offense and $5,000 for the second and subsequent offenses.

Massachusetts has the lowest statewide rate of uninsured drivers in the U.S., according to industry statistics from 2009, the most recent year available from the Insurance Research Council.

Supporters Cite Insurance Benefits, Detractors Cite Security Problems

Proposals about licensing undocumented motorists are part of a wider national debate about immigrants’ rights in the U.S.

In New Mexico, Gov. Susana Martinez said a state law passed more than a decade ago raised security issues when authorities there uncovered several “licensing rings.”

California is currently crafting regulations for its immigrant licensing program that officials there said could ultimately “lead to auto insurance savings” statewide as more drivers seek coverage in the marketplace.

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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