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Let’s get all drivers permitted and insured

By Bill Hammond, CEO, Texas Association of Business

State Rep. Byron Cook has shown real leadership this session for pursuing a bill that would provide a conditional driving permit for undocumented workers.  He should be applauded for these efforts, not criticized. This legislation is critical for Texas, but there has been a lot of misinformation thrown around about the idea.  It is time we look at the facts and set the record straight.
The ability to get a permit to drive legally in Texas is essential to make our roads safer and reduce insurance costs.  The ability to get a permit will not cause more undocumented workers to cross the border.  They come for economic and social reasons, not for the ability to legally drive a car in Texas.
A permit is not a driver’s license, but the requirements to get a permit are very similar.  Applicants must pass a test proving that they know the rules of the road in Texas, and they must show financial responsibility, meaning they must have insurance.  Applicants also would have to show a proficiency in reading and writing English, because the driving and written tests would be in English.
Let’s be clear about one thing, with or without a permit, undocumented workers are still driving in Texas.  There is no proof that they have studied or know the rules of the road in Texas, and often times they do not have insurance.  The high number of uninsured motorists in Texas causes insurance rates to go up for everyone.  If you drive and have insurance as the law requires, you should support the ability for undocumented workers to get a driving permit for the simple reason that it will mean fewer uninsured and untrained motorists on the road.
Texas would not be the first state to do this.  Utah created a Driving Privilege Card in 2005.  That program has been extremely successful in lowering the number of uninsured drivers on the road.  Currently, Utah has an uninsured driver rate of 5.3 percent.  That compares to Texas at just over 14 percent.
Because of changes in state law that require people obtaining or renewing a driver’s license to show proof of lawful presence, some undocumented workers that may already have a Texas driver’s license may not be able to renew it.  That is another reason we need an alternative permit.
There are other requirements for getting a permit: fingerprinting and a full background check.  That process would assist the Department of Public Safety in locating criminals who have crossed the border into Texas and would put a dent in the illegal trade of fake documentation, including fake driver’s licenses.
Some argue that this option may grant undocumented workers some of the powers of citizenship, for example the ability to show the permit at the polls and vote; that simply cannot happen.  One thing the permit and a Texas driver’s license have in common is that their only purpose in statute is to allow someone to drive legally.  While a Texas driver’s license may be used for identification, legally that is not its purpose.  Statutes like voter ID have several identification alternatives.
The design of the driving permit would be different as well.  It will be very easy to tell that it is not a driver’s license, and using it for identification will be prohibited.  Again, the only purpose of the driving permit is to ensure someone is driving legally in Texas and has met all of the training and financial responsibilities to do so.
It is irresponsible to allow people to drive without a license or permit, no matter where they are from or their legal status, and it is unfortunate that this legislation never made it to the House floor for consideration.  We must make this alternative available to keep our roads safe and our insurance rates in check.

Bill Hammond is CEO at Texas Association of Business