Attorney Christopher Rehmet On Giving Aliens Driver’s Licenses and Uninsured Motorists In Texas

A debate is taking place in the Texas legislature about providing illegal aliens the right to a driver’s license.  Many representatives believe giving undocumented immigrants the right to drive will actually reduce the number of uninsured motorists on the road, because proof of insurance is required before a driver’s license is issued.  They argue that illegal aliens cannot currently purchase auto insurance because most insurance companies in the state of Texas require that you have a driver’s license before they will issue a policy, but Texas law prohibits undocumented immigrants from obtaining that driver’s license.  Some Texas lawmakers feel that it is better to give these aliensuninsured motorist driver’s licenses so that they can get insurance than to have them driving around without insurance unable to compensate citizens who they might hit.     The problem with this argument has to do with permissive user exclusions or “restricted” insurance policies.  These are the cheapest auto policies sold in the state.  Many undocumented immigrants will buy these cheap policies.

 

The permissive user exclusion has become a large hole in our auto insurance law that allows people to skirt the mandatory insurance requirement.  Since 2003, Texas allows insurance companies to approach the Texas Department of Insurance with alternative language which is different from the standard Texas Personal Auto Policy and ask for permission to sell the alternative policies.  Insurance companies are now writing alternative policy language covering less than the Texas Personal Auto Policy.  One way the auto insurance companies reduce their coverage is through the use of permissive user exclusions.  The definition of a covered person is changed from something similar to “you and anyone related to you by blood or marriage who resides in your home” to something similar to “you, but not any of your family members”.   The insurance company charges lower premium payments in exchange for the reduced coverage, and it is a cheap policy to buy.

 

There are several problems with alternative policies containing permissive driver exclusions.  The most obvious problem is that family members are the people most likely to borrow the car, and under this altered automobile policy, they are no longer covered if they drive the vehicle listed the policy.  There are, therefore,  a lot more uninsured drivers on the road now than before 2003.  Moreover, the permissive use exclusion allows uninsured family members to drive without being caught.  This happens because the insurance card issued by the insurance company looks the same whether the policy is a Texas Personal Auto Policy which covers any person driving the vehicle, or one containing a permissive use exclusion, which does not cover.  The police can’t tell the difference.  People who are hit by a family member who is not covered won’t find out until their claim is denied by the insurance company, because law enforcement has no idea the driver is not covered on that policy at the scene of the collision.  The uninsured driver will most likely never even get a ticket.

 

Another problem with alternative policies has to with copyright law.  Many of the insurance companies copyright the alternative policy language before submitting it to the Texas Department of Insurance.  As a result, no one can read the alternative policy to find out what might or might not be covered.  The Texas Department of Insurance won’t copy the policy because copyright law forbids the dissemination of the policy language.   If you are unfortunately hit by someone who is not covered, it is impossible to get the policy language to verify coverage without filing a law suit.  The Texas Department of Insurance will make the policy available at their office, but will not make any means of copying available.

 

In 2005, the Texas Comptroller estimated 1,400,000 undocumented immigrants resided in the State of Texas.  If these people are allowed driver’s licenses, most will probably buy the cheaper alternative policy. Because of the driver restrictions, the number of undetected uninsured motorists will sky rocket.  Law abiding citizens will be left with no recourse and no way to verify the terms of the undocumented driver’s insurance coverage.

 

If the legislature decides to allow undocumented immigrants the privilege to drive, then the immigrant should be required to buy insurance that covers their car, regardless of who is driving it.  There is no doubt the car will most likely be loaned to others who have licenses but no longer own a car, or have let their insurance lapse.