Driver's licenses open door to safer rides for those in U.S. illegally

Cleaner air may be another side benefit #AB60 giving driver's licenses to immigrants in the U.S. illegally

Not all unintended consequences are bad. Take for instance California’s move to give special driver's licenses to immigrants who are in the country illegally starting this year.

Those of us, including the editorial board, who supported AB 60 for practical and compassionate reasons expected it would improve safety and accountability on the road. Denying driver's licenses to those in the U.S. illegally wasn’t stopping hundreds of thousands of them from climbing behind the wheel. It only meant they were doing so without learning the rules of the road or obtaining car insurance, and in constant fear of having their car impounded.

But it didn't occur to me that it could contribute to cleaner air, too. A La Opinion story suggests that may be the case because some of those with new licenses are kicking their carcachitas (junkers) to the curb and buying newer cars, which are generally more fuel-efficient and safer than older models.

If this is more widespread than just the people profiled in the story, then it would be a benefit to the state economy as well. I suspect it is; I had heard similar stories earlier this year, and car dealers have been anticipating a surge in sales as soon as AB 60 passed.

It make sense. When your only car-buying options are to pay cash or get a sketchy loan, your options are limited to clunkers from Craigslist or a low-end car from used-car dealers. So far, about half a million Californians in the country illegally have applied for driver's licenses and no doubt many thousands more will do so once the lines get shorter. Some of them are surely going to want to trade up.

If they do, here's another possible side benefit: denying business to the shady used-car sellers who take advantage of people desperate for a set of wheels.

Follow me on Twitter @marielgarzaLAT

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