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Debate Chugs Along Over Whether Granting Immigrants Driver's Licenses Will Make Roads Safer

LOS ANGELES ( — A debate over granting illegal immigrants driver's licenses continues to chug along after the California Legislature passed a bill on it Thursday night.

An estimated 1.5 million Californians are living in the state illegally and driving even though they don't have a license or insurance, which prompted the state Senate and Assembly to vote in favor of AB60, authored by Democratic Assemblyman Luis Alejo of Watsonville.

"I have to drive, too, and I feel terrible because I don't have a driver's license, but what can I do?" Araceli Sanchez told KCAL9's Dave Bryan.

Supporters claim licensing illegal drivers will make the state's roads, streets and freeways safer.

"This is clearly about public safety," said Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach.

"It's an issue of them having a license because they've demonstrated that they know the rules and they have the skills to navigate the highways to protect all of us," said Assemblymember Shirley Weber, D-San Diego.

Pete Moraga of the Insurance Information Network of California (IINC) told Bryan that the property casualty insurance industry as a whole supports the driver's license bill as licensed, insured drivers might be less likely to leave the scene of the accident. Moraga did note that the IINC is a non-profit, non-lobbying organization.

"Law enforcement will tell us that many of the hit-and-runs that we see in this area, especially in Los Angeles, are caused by unlicensed drivers because they don't want to stick around," he said.

Opponents, however, had a variety of complaints about the bill. Many of them argued there is no evidence the new law would work as intended.

"This is a fatally flawed bill. I urge a 'no' vote," said Assemblymember Tim Donnelly, R-Hesperia.

"I'm not really supportive of this because I don't think it will accomplish what any of us want to do," said Assemblymember Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point.

A study of crash rates for suspended, revoked and unlicensed drivers in a 2012 Department of Motor Vehicles report concluded that "compared to licensed drivers, those who drive without a valid license are nearly three times more likely to cause a fatal crash relative to their exposure."

The report goes on to state that unlicensed drivers tend to be even more hazardous than drivers with suspended or revoked licenses.

Some opponents also charge the bill is a reward for those who came to the U.S. illegally, and will attract even more undocumented immigrants to do the same.

"You have to be very careful about giving benefits to the people who are here because every time you do that, you're creating more of an incentive for people around the world," said Jon Fleischman, the founder and publisher of "I mean, everybody wants to come to America because it's a great place, but we can't absorb everybody."

The public is still deeply divided on whether or not the licenses will make the roadways safer.

"It won't make it any safer. What's gonna change?" a man said.

"I've seen a lot of people who have passed the test and still can't drive. So I don't think it's gonna make any difference," a woman said.

"I think it will probably make the roads safe to have a provisional license rather than having people feel they have to drive around illegally," said a woman.

Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign AB60 into law.

RELATED STORY: Calif. Legislature OK's Driver's Licenses For Illegal Immigrants

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