New RWU study claims driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants result in safer roads

Stock photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Stock photo from Wikimedia Commons.


A new analysis released by Roger Williams University School of Law and the Latino Policy Institute claims that issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants in Rhode Island would “lead to safer roads and potentially better economic opportunities.”

The RWU analysis found that Rhode Island contains an estimated 30,000 undocumented immigrants, and has the largest percentage of uninsured motorists in New England.


14 jurisdictions – including 12 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. – provide standard or alternate driver’s licenses to their undocumented populations.

The study found that states providing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants don’t see a massive influx of immigrants, but they do have fewer traffic fatality rates on average and lower average costs for auto insurance. Also, poverty rates tend to decline at a faster rate in states that provide driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, the study found.

The study cites an AAA Foundation report that unlicensed drivers were 19 percent more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash. “The completion of driver’s education and passing of a driving test would ensure that all drivers on the roads are aware of the driving rules and laws of the road, thereby making it safer for all to drive,” the report states.

The study analyzes how other states have handled driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, saying, “States with a lenient approach invite fraud and free-riding by residents of other states. States with a strict approach discourage bona fide applicants, and thus jeopardize the public safety and economic benefits of granting driver’s privileges to undocumented individuals.” Legislation proposed in the past in Rhode Island falls into the “moderate” category that strikes the right balance, the report says.

Governor Gina M. Raimondo said, “This comprehensive analysis by researchers at Roger Williams University confirms that issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented Rhode Islanders can improve public safety for everyone. I remain committed to addressing this important public safety issue and hope to work with the General Assembly to provide a path for undocumented Rhode Islanders to obtain drivers’ licenses.”

Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, a former RWU School of Law professor who co-founded the Latino Policy Institute, said, “I am proud to see LPI continue meaningful and thought-provoking research on Latinos in Rhode Island. I am especially appreciative of their research on the benefits of issuing driver’s licenses to all of our residents, regardless of immigration status. I support driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants because it is a matter of equity, and it is also a matter of safety. By properly educating and insuring all of our drivers, we create safer roads for everyone.”