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Undocumented immigrants and road safety

California legislation proposed four years ago to allow undocumented immigrants to legally drive was not without controversy. Undocumented immigration was already evolving as a "hot-button" topic that divided political parties and advocacy groups. It soon became a hallmark plank on campaign platforms for both sides.

Regardless of the strength of the resistance, a bill passed granting driver's licenses to immigrants who cannot prove legal residency in the United States.

The 2013 law continues to spur debate. Opponents continue to express fears over more dangerous roads. Detractors allege that undocumented drivers involved in accidents could be more likely to flee to avoid criminal consequences over their status.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform joined that outcry. The advocacy group for immigration restrictions believes that more undocumented immigrants legally driving would increase the likelihood of accidents caused by uninsured motorists. The federation speculated that more of those collisions would involve hit and runs.

However, a recent study by Stanford University, the first of its kind to judge the legislation's effectiveness, showed no evidence to back up those claims. While accidents neither increased nor decreased, hit-and-runs in California went down 10 percent since enactment of the law.

In 2015 alone, 4,000 fewer hit-and-runs occurred during a year when 600,000 people received their driver's licenses under the law.

Stanford researchers also reported that providing unauthorized immigrants access to licenses did not increase incentives to flee because they are less likely to fear deportation. The identification is considered a "special license" with markings that indicate to police of the driver's status. However, law enforcement is prohibited from reporting them to immigration agents.

Currently, twelve states and the District of Columbia grant driver's licenses to unauthorized immigrants.

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