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California's millions of unlicensed drivers are nearly three times as likely to cause a fatal traffic crash as those who are driving legally, a new Department of Motor Vehicles study concludes.

The findings, the DMV's researchers conclude, "strongly justify the use of countermeasures, including vehicle impoundment, to control (illegal) drivers and to reduce crashes caused by those drivers."

The data provide new grist for the state's perennial political debate over whether illegal immigrants should be allowed to obtain licenses, and local debates in San Francisco and other cities over police seizure of vehicles from drivers who are unlicensed.

For the past 18 years, applicants for driver's licenses have been required to prove their legal status. Advocates of licensing illegal drivers say that it would improve traffic safety.

The study covered fatal accident statistics from 1987 and 2009 and divided at-fault drivers into three categories - licensed drivers, those driving on suspended or revoked licenses, and those who never had licenses.

On average, fewer than 1 percent of licensed drivers will be at fault in a fatal collision, while the rates of those with suspended or revoked licenses and those without licenses approach 3 percent.

The study noted that in a given moment, about two million Californians will have their licenses suspended or revoked, but how many continue to drive is unknown, as is the number of drivers who never had been licensed. The latter number is assumed to have grown since the law was changed in 1994 to require license applicants to prove legal status.


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