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posted: 12/3/2012 5:00 AM

Editorial: Licensing bill would make roads safer

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Imagine hundreds of thousands of drivers on the state's roads who have never taken a driver's test and don't have driver's licenses.

Or imagine being the victim of a car accident on a suburban street and finding the other driver is not only unlicensed, but uninsured.

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Those scenarios form the foundation of the argument for licensing drivers who are undocumented immigrants in Illinois.

A bipartisan proposal working its way through the state legislature would make Illinois the third and most populous state to grant driving privileges to people who are not legal residents of the United States. New Mexico and Washington state already allow driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants.

The idea is backed by Democratic Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn as well as by Republicans like Illinois Senate GOP Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont, who voted "yes" last week in a state Senate committee where the proposal passed 12-2 with no one testifying against it.

We support the driver's license proposal as well, as long as law enforcement authorities are satisfied with safeguards against possible fraudulent use of the licenses to access other rights such as voting or buying firearms.

Some Republicans like Radogno, Illinois Sen. Matt Murphy of Palatine and Illinois Sen. Bill Brady, a former downstate candidate for governor, threw their support behind the proposal after wording was added last week to address fraud.

The special visitor's driver's licenses would be reserved for those who have been in Illinois for at least a year, would look different from regular licenses and would carry the words "not valid for identification" on the front.

Some opposition stems from a philosophical disagreement with the idea of granting privileges to people who are in the United States illegally.

While acknowledging that viewpoint, our focus is on practical aspects like those voiced by Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran, who supports licensing undocumented immigrant drivers as a way to reduce the number of hours his officers spend on traffic stops that turn into immigration cases, diverting officers from safety patrols and other duties.

Having the estimated 250,000 eligible immigrants take driving and vision tests and requiring them to have insurance are other big pluses, Curran notes. The Illinois Highway Safety Coalition, which backs the proposal, reports that accidents involving unlicensed, uninsured immigrant drivers result in $64 million in damage claims a year in Illinois.

Here's a chance to reduce that number.

Making a change for the safety of all drivers on the road, in our consideration, outweighs arguments against granting driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants.

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