CARSON CITY — Nevada has issued more than 20,000 driver authorization cards in the first six months of the program’s existence, but many more immigrants who are in the country illegally remain afraid to come forward, those familiar with the program say.
“This is going to take years to get everyone licensed,” said Esperanza Montelongo, owner of Aztec insurance just east of the Strip.
“Even though Senate Bill 303 passed, people are super scared to go to the DMV. How can you not be? Imagine you come into this country illegally and go into a government office to obtain a driver card. I think there are thousands and thousands who are scared to do that. I would be afraid, too.”
Data from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles through June 11 show that 23,066 cards and instruction permits have been issued to residents who are not eligible for a regular driver’s license. Of the total, 16,392 have received a driver authorization card, and 6,674 have received authorization card instruction permits.
DMV spokesman Kevin Malone said the initial rush of driver authorization card applicants the agency’s offices experienced in January has subsided. With as many as 60,000 immigrants in Nevada potentially eligible to apply for the legal permission to drive, some officials are skeptical whether that estimate will be reached anytime soon.
“At first I was scared, but then later on after thinking about it I decided to get it,” said Maria Rodriguez of Las Vegas. Rodriguez, who spoke to the Review-Journal in Spanish, obtained a driving card June 10.
Rodriguez agrees with Montelongo that there are people in the community who are afraid to get a driver card, but she said she feels safer now that she has one. Before getting her card, she had fears of getting a ticket because she was not able to drive legally.
SB303 was designed to make roads safer under the premise that motorists would have to pass DMV tests to demonstrate an understanding of the rules of the road and would have to buy auto insurance.
There is no way to find out, however, if those who obtained driver authorization cards and were driving illegally on Nevada’s roads had insurance before or after obtaining the cards.
Montelongo said she has not seen an increase in sales of auto insurance policies in her office since the law has been in place. Aztec insurance specializes in high-risk insurance and sells thousands of policies to a clientele made up mostly of Hispanics.
Montelongo also said there are many misconceptions and an abundance of misinformation within the Las Vegas community about the driver cards. She said rumors have suggested that people are being picked up by Immigration and Naturalization Services at the DMV for being undocumented when trying to obtain the driver cards, but they are not true.
Nevada law prohibits the state from reporting immigration status and other information to federal authorities.
The DMV website said, “The Director shall not release any information relating to legal presence or any other information relating to or describing immigration status, nationality or citizenship from a file or record relating to a request for or the issuance of a license, identification card or title or registration of a vehicle to any person or to any federal, state or local governmental entity for any purpose relating to the enforcement of immigration laws.”
“If someone was detained it was because they were a criminal or they tried to present fraudulent information when they tried to obtain a card,” said state Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, who co-sponsored the bill. “One of the reasons we need this law is so that people understand the law so our roads can be safer.”
DMV advises those with the cards to check with neighboring states to find out if they are accepted in those jurisdictions.
Las Vegas police say they will honor driver authorization cards issued from other states and treat them as driver’s licenses as long as the cards are valid. Utah, Washington, Illinois and New Mexico are among the states that already have driver authorization card programs. California is expected to offer similar driving privileges in 2015.
“I don’t see why that (driver authorization cards) wouldn’t be accepted in California as long as Nevada is not putting some sort of stipulation on it,” said officer Robert Meyers of the California Highway Patrol public information office. “What we are looking for is someone who has taken and passed the necessary requirements to safely drive a vehicle.”
More applicants for driver authorization cards have failed the written test than have passed it. The failure rate is 10 points higher for driver card applicants than for those seeking a driver’s license. According to the DMV, 57 percent fail the driver’s license test and 67 percent fail the driver card test.
According to Malone, the failure rate on the written driving test always has been high. He explained that the written test is difficult because it references specific facts and figures which require test takers to study the drivers handbook.
Denis said that six months after implementation of the new law, he views it as a success. He said it is possible to reach the 60,000 benchmark once word gets out about the program and the results it has yielded.
Contact Capital Bureau reporter Whip Villarreal at email@example.com or 775-687-3901. Find him on Twitter: @WhipVillarreal.