Neb. Senator’s Driver’s Certificate Legislation Raises Questions

November 14, 2006

To combat problems created by uninsured drivers, Nebraska State Sen. Ray Aguilar of Grand Island plans to introduce legislation next year that would create a driver’s certificate.

The certificate would allow a person without a Social Security number to obtain a legal permit for driving and acquire insurance.

“I want to make sure everybody has the opportunity to buy auto insurance,” Aguilar said. “We have a lot of people driving without it.”

The October-November issue of State Legislatures magazine featured Aguilar’s idea. Aguilar was highlighted as a state lawmaker coming up with ideas on how to deal with rising immigrant populations and some of the challenges those populations may bring.

Aguilar staffer Marget Kohl said the driver’s certificate targets undocumented workers.

An Insurance Research Council study found in 2004 that, nationwide, chances are one in seven that if a person is hurt in an auto accident, the at-fault driver is uninsured. The study estimated Nebraska’s rate of uninsured drivers to be 8 percent.

Fred Zwonechek, the administrator for the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety, said he thinks the number is higher.

“You don’t have to talk to very many people to find one who’s been involved in an accident with an uninsured driver,” Zwonechek said.

The driver’s certificate issue is complicated, said Pat Kaffrey, a member of the leadership committee of Omaha Together One Community (OTOC) a group that is backing Aguilar’s proposal.

Kaffrey said the federal Real ID Act that creates national standards for issuing state driver’s licenses prevents numerous people from obtaining insurance. The Real ID Act requires a Social Security number so that the card can be used as a federal identification card.

Aguilar said Nebraska could decide to bypass the Real ID Act standards, but then Nebraska driver’s licenses could no longer be used as a legal form of federal identification to obtain passports and other legal documentation.

Creating an alternative form of legal driving seemed like the better alternative.

Utah, for example, implemented a “driving privilege card” in 2005, Kohl said.

That card requires a tax identification number from an Internal Revenue Service form and proof of legal status. Two verifiable identification documents must also be presented. The card costs $20 for adults and $25 for people under age 21.

O’Rourke said if the driver’s certificate bill passes in Nebraska, an undocumented worker wouldn’t need to fear being turned in to Immigration and Custom Enforcement officials by workers in a motor vehicle licensing department.

“That’s not our responsibility,” said Nebraska Motor Vehicle Department Licensing Administrator Sara O’Rourke. “We are not the immigration or naturalization service.”

Likewise, Aguilar said, the driver’s certificate should not be a “red flag” to local law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of a person who possesses a certificate and is involved in an accident. Local law officers don’t want immigration responsibilities, Aguilar said.

Zwonechek said he wonders whether undocumented workers would buy insurance if they had the ability to do so.

He believes a better approach to the uninsured driver issue is proactive traffic enforcement.

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