Licenses for migrant drivers means more will be insured — in theory – Los Angeles Times

Posted: Saturday, January 03, 2015

As thousands of immigrants who are in the country illegally queued up Friday to apply for a California driver’s license, supporters of the controversial new law that made the licenses possible predicted a flood of new motorists in the automobile insurance market.

The state Department of Motor Vehicles estimates that 1.4 million immigrants who are in the country illegally may be eligible for special driver’s licenses under AB 60, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed in 2013 and took effect Friday. Many could also be eligible for a new, state-approved, low-cost insurance plan.

Experts say there are no firm figures, but they believe most immigrants who don’t have licenses also do not have automobile insurance.

Opponents of the new law say that because it does not require immigrants to provide proof of insurance when they get a license, there is no guarantee that they will be insured. They also worry that the low-cost insurance plan won’t provide enough coverage for victims in major accidents.

Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville), who wrote AB 60, said that he believes most immigrant drivers — many of whom have been waiting years to get a legal driver’s license — will comply with state law that requires insurance for all vehicles operated in California.

“I expect the vast majority are going to get covered,” Alejo said.

Currently, about 16% of licensed drivers in California don’t have auto insurance, according to Mark Sektnan, president of the Assn. of California Insurance Companies.

Insurance firms across the state have hired additional staff, preparing for a deluge of applicants. They have also launched targeted advertising for the new crop of motorists, Sektnan said.

He could not estimate how many immigrants who get licenses under AB 60 also would get new insurance plans. But Sektnan said some unlicensed immigrants have carried auto insurance for years to protect themselves financially.

Alejandro Albores, a 32-year-old construction worker from Long Beach who has lived in the country illegally for the last 14 years, said he insured his vehicles because it was the right thing to do and he wanted to protect himself in case of a car crash.

Albores was one of many driver’s license applicants who visited the DMV’s Stanton office in Orange County. He said he hoped that, with a license, he wouldn’t have to continue paying such high insurance premiums on his vehicles.

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