Controversy stirred up over auto insurance for illegal immigrants in Utah

A valid driver's license is required for purchasing auto insurance. And a valid driver's license, in turn, usually requires proof of legal residency. This system raises questions when it comes to illegal immigrants: Should they be able to get auto insurance? And, if not, what happens when they drive anyway, cause an accident and can't pay for the damages?
Utah is unique in that creates a path for illegal immigrants to get covered. It allows drivers who can't prove legal presence in the state to get "driving privilege cards" -- which then can be used to buy insurance.

What are driving privilege cards?

Utah's driving privilege card system allows those not eligible for Social Security numbers to obtain state-issued cards, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety. These cards let those who carry them drive legally; they also can be used when purchasing auto insurance.
Qualifications for driving privilege cards, which cannot be used for identification purposes, include:

  • At least two documents proving you've lived in Utah for at least six months. You cannot get a driving privilege card if you've been temporarily assigned to Utah by an employer, religious group or government agency.
  • Evidence of identity.
  • A tax identification number (if you don't have a Social Security number).
  • Proof of driving privilege issued in another state, or proof that you've completed a driver training course.

For and against driving privilege cards

The use of driving privilege cards has created a fair amount of controversy.
Supporters believe they provide a means to legally operate a vehicle and obtain insurance, which benefits everyone on the road. Those who can't get insurance, they argue, simply will drive anyway and add to the number of uninsured drivers.
A 2008 audit from Utah's Office of Legislative Auditor General suggests that, given the chance, those who get driving privilege cards do get insurance --76 percent of all driving privilege card holders also have valid insurance policies. That's close to the 82 percent of driver's license holders who have insurance.
Not everyone believes driving privilege cards are beneficial, however. Opponents worry that granting driving privilege cards discourages undocumented workers from obtaining citizenship by providing them with the same benefits available to legal residents.
Even immigrant rights groups have concerns. When Utah passed the legislation establishing the cards in 2005, the National Immigration Law Center voiced concerns that auto insurance companies would consider the privilege cards "second-class" licenses -- and raise rates for cardholders.

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