SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) – In January, California began issuing driver's licenses to immigrants living in the country illegally. So far, more than 350,000 people have been licensed under the program with 1 million more expected in the next three years.
Here are some things to know about the program:
Who qualifies for this license?
To obtain a driver's license under the new law, applicants need to prove their identity and residency in the state. In most cases, immigrants will need to present official government documents like a passport or a consular identification card from their home country to the state's Department of Motor Vehicles. Those who can't may request an interview with a DMV investigator who will verify the identity of applicants through a host of other documents.
Immigrants, like other applicants, must also pass written and road tests, pay a $33 fee and provide proof of auto insurance to obtain a license.
Are there any restrictions?
The license issued to immigrants in the country illegally is marked differently from the document issued to other drivers in the state and is not considered a valid form of federal identification, for example, to board an airplane.
The front of the license includes additional words indicating that "federal limits apply." The back of the card states that the license is not valid for official federal purposes.
Has there been an impact on the roads?
Law enforcement officials say it's too soon to know whether the roads are safer because of the license. It's also hard to measure any impacts because police aren't tracking incidents involving those with the new licenses, said Fran Clader, a spokeswoman for the California Highway Patrol.
Car impounds fell by 4 percent during the first four months of this year from the same, year-earlier period, but Clader said it's unclear whether the program caused the change.
Near the Mexican border, Chula Vista police chief David Bejarano said no statistics are available yet but his officers are seeing more licensed drivers, and fewer impounds. Just north of San Francisco, San Rafael Police Lt. Dan Fink said the traffic division has seen "a dramatic increase" in the number of newly licensed drivers at sobriety checkpoints.
Before the program, supporters said requiring all drivers to prove they know traffic rules and carry insurance would make the roads safer and the licenses would reduce hit-and-run accidents because immigrants wouldn't fear getting stopped by police. Critics countered that drivers flee because they fear deportation, not a traffic ticket, and that encouraging those here illegally to drive might lead to more, not fewer, hit-and-runs.
Has the program affected the auto insurance industry or rates?
It's hard to say, especially since immigrants in the country illegally who drove without a license still should have purchased auto insurance to register their vehicles.
A subsidiary of Farmers Insurance that targets these drivers has seen a 1 percent to 2 percent increase since January, but that's about the same increase seen before the program began.
"What we're finding is the people we had insured before are showing us licenses," said Dan Dunmoyer, head of government and industry affairs for Farmers Insurance. "They were law abiding citizens before the law allowed them to abide."
As for insurance rates, the theory is that more insured drivers means more people can absorb the cost of claims, said Nancy Kincaid, a spokeswoman with the California Department of Insurance. Conversely, more claims could drive up the cost of premiums for everyone.
In any case, she said, any impact on rates is a ways off.
Has the license program affected organ donations?
The number of new organ donor registrations in California jumped by 29 percent in the first quarter of 2015 compared with the same, year-earlier period, according to Donor Network West, which manages the registry.
Officials believe the increase stems at least in part from the new license program, especially since new donor registrations rose less than 1 percent in the first quarter of 2014 from a year before, said Noel Sanchez, a Donor Network West spokesman.
"We are definitely seeing a trend," he said.
The vast majority of the state's 12 million organ donors register when they apply for their driver's license, Sanchez said. As a result, the new licenses are poised to help those in need of organs, he said. He also said that Hispanics, who are disproportionately in need of organ donations, could stand to benefit since organ transplants are often more successful within an ethnic group.
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