Op-Ed: Sharing the Road with Fewer Unlicensed Drivers Would Make New Jersey Safer

This op-ed appeared in the December 3, 2015 edition of the Asbury Park Press.

opedgraphicNew Jersey lawmakers are relying on inaccurate information about security and safety to slow down the progress of a bill that would make New Jersey roads safer and increase the economic security of striving immigrants.

This legislation, which was advanced last month by the state Assembly, represents a common-sense step towards allowing all New Jersey residents, regardless of their immigration status, to drive legally if they meet certain requirements. These requirements include showing multiple documents to show proof of their identity, age and New Jersey residence, passing the same driving tests as everyone else and registering and insuring their vehicles.

This license would be limited in that it could not be used as ID to board an airplane, apply for federal or public benefits or obtain employment. The words “Federal Limits Apply” would be in the front of the license, and the back would note that the license is valid only for driving and that it “does not establish eligibility for federal or public benefits or obtain employment.”

Unfortunately, this pragmatic policy is under attack from opponents who twist logic and ignore the facts, relying on fear and exploiting the shock generated by the Paris terror attacks by claiming that licensing undocumented drivers would make us less safe.

On the contrary, it would make us safer. For one thing, being in the state’s comprehensive driver’s license databases brings people out of the shadows, providing certified documentation of who they are. The state driver’s license itself contains basic information and photographs that, in case of a tragedy, could be used to verify identity.

Many opponents point to the ability of license holders to board an airplane. But when it comes to boarding airplanes, let’s keep this in mind: people don’t even need a driver’s license to fly. They can get on board with a foreign passport or any government-issued ID. And despite all the scare tactics about terrorism, it’s clear that allowing undocumented residents to legally drive — as 12 states plus D.C. do — does not lead to more terror attacks or even higher threat levels. Much like it has too many times over the past 15 years, fear of terrorism is being used to further marginalize people who are already on the edges of American society.

Allowing all qualified New Jerseyans to drive legally would be a major benefit to safety across the state. Don’t you want that driver in the lane next to you as you’re hurtling down the Turnpike at 70 mph to have passed a driver’s test and have a license? Sharing the road with more drivers who are tested, trained, licensed, insured and accountable for their driving makes everyone safer – that’s just common sense.

The primary purpose of this bill is to enable many of the half-million undocumented immigrants who call New Jersey home, and others — such as veterans who have trouble proving their status, the homeless and other vulnerable populations — to go to the doctor or take their children to school without breaking the law.

And what’s more, if undocumented immigrants and other vulnerable populations obtain identification, they’ll be more likely to cooperate with the police if they are victims of a crime, witness a crime or see something suspicious — instead of avoiding contact due to fear of deportation or further questioning. This can only help law enforcement do its job better and solve more cases.

Lawmakers now face a choice: give in to unfounded fears fueled by misinformation, or focus on the facts and do what’s right for New Jersey. The best choice is clear.