Our View - The privilege of driving
January 6, 2016
Merriam-Webster defines privilege as "a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor."
The First State bestowed a privilege on undocumented immigrants last week by becoming the 12th state in the nation to extend driving rights to people who are in the country illegally.
This does not mean all undocumented residents will get licenses.
Applicants to the Delaware program will have to demonstrate they have filed state taxes the previous two years, as well as show a valid form of identification from their home country. They also have to pass a driving test and meet insurance requirements, just like every other driver.
Critics decry any legislative action that they see as rewarding illegal immigration. But from a pragmatic point of view, requiring all drivers to be licensed – no matter their resident status – is crucial for the safety of all motorists and pedestrians.
Claudia Peña Porretti serves as the vice president of development at the Wilmington-based Latin American Community Center and thinks the new law will make roads safer because many illegal immigrants are driving now without having passed state road tests.
Delaware had around 20,000 undocumented people in 2012, according to a Pew Research Center study released in 2014. It's unclear how many of them are eligible to apply for a license.
But just enacting the program is not enough.
For the state to ensure illegal immigrants are licensed to drive, it must get the word out to the undocumented community. Organizations that serve illegal immigrants have the same obligation.
In doing so, it must be made clear that the law bars Delaware from sharing fingerprints with federal authorities as long as the prints don't match ones found in a state crime database.
Delaware isn't the safest place to be behind the wheel of a vehicle. A recent study ranked us as the ninth worst driving state in the country. Delaware was also ranked the second-worst state in terms of careless driving. In October, The News Journal's Karl Baker reported that Delaware is, per capita, America's deadliest state for pedestrians. In 2014, 28 pedestrians were hit and killed by cars. In 2015, more than 30 died.
Kudos to the state, Delaware Police Chiefs' Council and the Mid-Atlantic Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for tackling this issue. Driving is a privilege. Driving safely is a responsibility for everybody behind the wheel.