Those of us who must travel to get to our jobs — and that’s most of us — have little recourse but to drive. That means having the wherewithal and funds to purchase a vehicle. It also means bearing the cost of insurance and maintenance, and having a state authorized license to drive.
The lack of a valid license plays out most publicly in the Latino community, where undocumented drivers, needing to get to work to survive, say they have no recourse but to do so illegally since they cannot obtain a valid license.
Latino advocacy groups bemoan the fact that penalties accrue for repeat violators, and could lead to deportation. Certainly, that is an extreme punishment. But let’s not overlook the facts in our zeal to find a solution.
One in every five fatal car crashes in the United States each year involves a driver who does not have a valid license, according to a highly reputable study released just a week ago. The report, “Unlicensed to Kill,” released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, concluded that 8400 people die each year in crashes with unlicensed drivers. It also found that 28 percent of the law-breaking drivers had received three or more license suspensions or revocations in the three years before their fatal collisions.
Rhetoric aside, these are not victimless crimes.
A recent court decision turned back a deal Suffolk County had with federal immigration enforcement officers to lease holding cells to house repeat offenders, a practice that had been harshly condemned by Latino advocacy groups. But the AAA study cited above illustrates the downside of leniency. People are maimed, innocent folks die, and lives are ruined. At its worst, unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle can be a violent attack on an innocent victim with a lethal weapon. Those responsible should be punished to the full extent of the law. There are no mitigating circumstances. They belong behind bars.
What’s to be done? Clearly, informal carpooling already takes place, but an effort to expand it would probably run afoul of livery laws. The county needs to ratchet up its public bus schedule to be sure; but towns, always willing to blame the county for public transportation woes, need to foot some of the bill for a system that works locally and meshes with neighboring municipalities. Every worker should have an opportunity to board a public bus in the morning and another to get home at night, and it is a cost that should rightly be at least partially underwritten by all taxpayers.