Between 1993 and 1997, some 42,049 people died because someone who did not hold a valid driver’s license climbed behind the wheel of a vehicle and drove anyway, according to a recent report.
An AAA Foundation survey shows that 20 percent – one in every five – of all fatal crashes in the United States involve drivers who should never have been on the road in the first place due to the fact they were unlicensed.
The survey examined 278,078 drivers who were involved in 183,749 fatal crashes from 1993 to 1997. The unlicensed drivers were broken down into three segments:
- Drivers with an invalid license (7.4 percent);
- Drivers with no known license (3.7 percent); and
- Drivers of unknown license status (2.7 percent).
Five years of fatal crash data, identifying each driver’s license status was examined. Drivers with invalid licenses were far more likely to have been driving drunk and to have had multiple suspensions or revocations in the three years before the crash. In addition, the incidence of improper licensing varied widely by state. Maine had the lowest incidence, with 6.9 percent.
The state with the highest proportion of invalidly licensed drivers was New Mexico, where 23.9 percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes were either unlicensed, operating on an invalid license, or of unknown license status. Other high-risk jurisdictions included the District of Columbia, Arizona, California, and Hawaii. An earlier study found that 30 to 70 percent of drivers whose licenses have been suspended or revoked might continue to drive.
- These entire statistics boil down to two simple ones:
- A person with a suspended or revoked license is 3.7 times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident.
- That figure jumps to 4.9 percent if the person has never even had a driver’s license.
Earlier studies show that as many as 70 percent of drivers who have had their driving privileges revoked, ignore the punishment and continue to drive. While everyone agrees there is a problem, states are enacting different laws to discourage unlicensed drivers from getting on the road.
Drivers with suspended, expired or revoked licenses may flee. They may take this step to escape the risk of explaining to a police officer why they are driving. Unlicensed driving is an ever increasing problem. This is especially true in California, where some estimate as many as 1 million unlicensed drivers occupy the state’s highways. Many drivers with no license are illegal immigrants, who risk deportation with any law enforcement contact. (Ref: AAA report: Unlicensed to Kill).This report states that an unlicensed driver is 66.36 times more likely to be a hit and run driver, than is a licensed driver.
The next major block would be those who have licenses suspended or revoked due to prior convictions. According to the article in the San Francisco Chronicle mentioned above, in California fatal hit-and-run accidents in which the driver’s license status was known, 49 percent had suspended, expired or revoked licenses or were not licensed at all. Analysis of 5 years of Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data, shows that one out of five fatal crashes involves at least one driver who is not properly licensed (unlicensed, S/R, expired, canceled or denied, unknown).
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