AP, August 24, 2006]
Washington—Marcos Ramos Medina was driving his 1997 Chevrolet Lumina erratically, according to witnesses, swerving several times across the center line, causing a tractor-trailer rig to jackknife in Yakima, Wash., Aug. 4, 2005.
That was before his car plowed into the 2000 Lexus driven by Peggy Keller, 53, dean of distance education at Yakima Valley College, who was killed in the head-on crash.
Prosecutors in his vehicular homicide trial contended Medina was coming down from a methamphetamine high. When Russell T. “Todd” Sharpe, a six-year Washington State Patrol officer, testified that Medina fought against his restraints while being taken to the hospital for a blood alcohol test and refused to answer questions, the case against the Mexican national with a criminal record who had twice been deported was declared a mistrial because his constitutional right to remain silent had been violated.
“It pains me greatly, but in this case I must exercise an abundance of caution,” explained Judge James P. Hutton.
Little caution, critics say, is being exercised when it comes to preventing mayhem on America’s highways as the country witnesses record high numbers of unlicensed, unregistered, uninsured drivers—millions of whom are illegal aliens like Medina.
While no one—in or out of government—tracks traffic accidents caused by illegal aliens, the statistical and anecdotal evidence suggests many of last year’s 42,636 road deaths involved illegal aliens.
A report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Study found 20 percent of fatal accidents involve at least one driver who lacks a valid license. In California, another study showed that those who have never held a valid license are about five times more likely to be involved in a fatal road accident than licensed drivers.
Statistically, that makes them an even greater danger on the road than drivers whose licenses have been suspended or revoked—and nearly as dangerous as drunk drivers.
While police do not routinely ask drivers about their immigration status, New York’s Rockland County District Attorney Michael Bongiorno—who has prosecuted more than 20 felony cases this year involving people accused of both unlicensed driving and drunken driving—estimated that two-thirds of about 70 drivers charged in Spring Valley with misdemeanor counts of driving while intoxicated and unlicensed driving were illegal immigrants.
“Unfortunately, the undocumented drivers here do that (drive unlicensed) more than the natives,’’ said California Highway Patrol Officer Wendy Hahn. “If they’ve been involved in an incident, they flee because they don’t want to deal with immigration.’’
In addition, the states with the most illegal aliens also have the most unlicensed drivers. Those states are also in the lead for the most hit-and-run accidents, according to reports issued by the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and the Pew Hispanic Center. California ranks at the top with 24.1 percent of the known 11.1 million illegal aliens.
The proportion of unlicensed drivers varies widely state-by-state, with 6 percent in Maine and 23 percent in New Mexico.
A WND statistical study of police reports of dozens of such checkpoints around the country show that close to 10 percent of drivers stopped are either unlicensed or have suspended licenses. Even at sobriety checkpoints, far more drivers are found to be unlicensed than intoxicated.
While some say the answer to the illegal alien-unlicensed driver crisis is permitting illegals to get licensed, others say the solution is decreasing the number of illegal immigrants living in the United States.
In addition to being unlicensed, most illegal alien drivers are uninsured—making the accidents they cause even more injurious. Statewide, more than one-third of California drivers are without insurance, according to the California Department of Insurance. In some low-income and minority neighborhoods, the rate is over 50 percent. In San Jose, for instance, 55 percent of all drivers on the road have no auto insurance. In some parts of Los Angeles, Imperial, San Diego and Alameda counties, the rate reaches as high as 90 percent.
The situation isn’t much better in other states with high populations of illegals. In Texas, 27 percent of drivers are uninsured. In Florida, the estimates are between 15 and 25 percent. In Colorado, 32 percent.
Even though citizens and legal residents are victimized by the high percentage of uninsured drivers, illegal aliens themselves are often immune to the pain.
Take the case of Victor Manuel Caballero. Even though he entered the country illegally from Mexico five years ago, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that he could collect damages for being hurt in an auto accident from a special state fund set up to benefit those hurt in accidents with uninsured drivers.
Caballero would hitch a ride to his computer job with a co-worker, 19-year-old Ricardo Martinez. One morning, Martinez fell asleep at the wheel, veered off the road and struck a parked tractor trailer. Martinez walked away from the accident, but Caballero was badly hurt.
Surgeons repaired injuries to his abdomen and intestines over a week in the hospital at a cost of $38,300 in medical bills and $1,482 in lost wages. He had no medical insurance. The driver, Martinez was not only unregistered, he had no auto insurance. It turns out he was illegal, too.
The $38,300 in hospital bills was paid by a special hospital charity fund. And because of his successful lawsuit that went all the way to the state Supreme Court, Caballero was eligible for up to $15,000 for “pain and suffering.”
There are no official statistics about highway carnage and illegal aliens. But there is an increasing awareness among law enforcement officials—and victims of traffic accidents—that illegal aliens are playing a disproportionate role in the road mayhem.
According to surveys conducted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Hispanics believe it takes 6-8 drinks to affect driving, while Americans, indoctrinated for years against drunk driving, believe it takes just 2-4 drinks.
In 2001, MADD reported 44.1 percent of California’s drunk driving arrests were of Hispanics, while, officially, they made up just 31.3 percent of the population.
Along with driver shortages and rising fuel costs, trucking company owner Mark Fields now worries about losing business to companies based in Mexico.
But Fields, who has 20 trucks, might be surprised to learn that his soon-to-be, Mexican-based competitors face the same fear regarding him.
More than 10 years after the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed with the idea of opening U.S. borders to Mexico and Canada for international trucking, Ian Grossman, an official with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said the Department of Transportation will announce a plan at the end of this year giving 100 Mexican carriers access into the United States for a one-year pilot program.
Mexican trucking companies are now taking loads within a designated area three to 20 miles past the U.S. border, and transferring the loads to U.S. trucks to deliver within the states. The same is true for U.S. loads being shipped into Mexico.
Small carriers like Fields’ JVF & Sons LLC in Joplin are concerned that they won’t be able to compete with Mexican trucking companies because of the difference in the countries’ wage rates.
Todd Spencer, a spokesman with the national Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said there already is a driver shortage in the industry. He said that if increased competition pushes down wages, recruiting will become even more difficult.
Spencer presented written testimony last month to the U.S. International Trade Commission citing studies showing that Mexican drivers’ pay is 25 percent to 50 percent of the amount U.S. drivers receive, which can range from $40,000 to $60,000 a year.