LAS CRUCES- According to a NMSU study conducted by Professor Tim Query, allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses or requiring lawful residency identification has an "insignificant impact" on the percentage of uninsured drivers in New Mexico.
New Mexico is one of three states including Utah and Washington that allows immigrants to apply for a driver's license without proving their legal residence.
Gov. Susanna Martinez has proposed that the state stop issuing driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants. That issue will be among others state lawmakers will consider during a special legislative session in September.
New Mexico is second in the nation in uninsured drivers at 25.7 percent, with Washington in 11th place at 16.1 percent. However, only seven states have a lower percentage of uninsured motorists than Utah. That state has an estimated 8.2 percent rate of uninsured drivers, which is well below the national average of 13.8 percent. Utah's licenses can only be used for driving.
"When examining data from the Insurance Research Council's (IRC) periodic study of uninsured motorists," Query said, "evidence is somewhat mixed in that states with loose requirements for a state-issued driver's license did not have uniformly lower percentages of uninsured motorists."
Query identified factors that did cause an increase in the uninsured driver rate: the actual number of undocumented immigrants and unemployment.
"On average, a 1 percentage point increase in unauthorized immigrants relative to the labor force increases the uninsured motorists rate by 0.54 percentage points," Query said. "We also find that a 1 percentage point increase in the state unemployment rate increases the uninsured motorists rate by 1.74 percentage points."
Query points to other studies that find the uninsured driver rate drops when mandatory insurance laws are enforced more strictly and poverty rates are lower.
"While the fraction of unauthorized immigrants matters, the lawful residency requirement has a negligible impact on the percentage on uninsured motorists, based on the results of our study," he said.