By Juan Canedo
March 2, 2006
No one would argue that one of the most important roles of the state government is the safety and security of their citizens. Therefore, the elected and appointed authorities must act to implement such a great responsibility.
In 2001 the Tennessee legislature passed a law that allowed people without a social security number to obtain Drivers’ Licenses while complying with the already existing requirements. All residents of Tennessee had to pass a written test and then pass the road test. Here we have an example of how the state government put the safety of Tennesseans above anything else. Any resident of Tennessee who wanted to have the privilege to obtain a Drivers’ License had to study the Department of Safety handbook to know all of the rules of traffic in our state. Consequently, knowing that all of the drivers learned the rules and passed the tests, we could drive on much safer roads with our families in Tennessee. In addition, drivers with licenses could purchase car insurance, which helped to keep the insurance premiums lower. That was a wise choice of our state government.
However, on 11 September 2001, the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., shifted the emphasis of the state government to security, in addition to road safety. Therefore, in the Legislature there were several attempts to repeal the Drivers’ License law of 2001. Finally, always keeping in mind the safety on our roads and the security in our state, the Legislature passed a law in May 2004 that allowed people without a social security number only to have access to a new Certificate for Driving instead of a license, which was only valid for driving purposes and not valid as a document of identification.
The rationale for the issuance of the Certificate for Driving appeared to make sense as a compromise, since people who wanted to obtain it had to take the written and road tests as usual. Therefore, we could still drive on safe roads. Most importantly, since the certificate had been issued with the inscription of “Not valid as an ID,” no one could use it to board an airplane; so we could fly securely in our country. At the same time, the Certificate for Driving aided law enforcement and other authorities to identify people who live in this state.
Last week, the Tennessee Department of Safety, decided to suspend temporarily the issuance of the Certificate for Driving with the argument that “it was a good program in theory” but that there have been issues with its implementation.
However, it is important to remember that the issuance of the Certificate for Driving has made our roads safer and our state more secure. Indeed, Interim Safety Commissioner, Gerald Nicely, was quoted in a press release about this suspension as stating: “…insuring the security of Tennesseans is a state issue, and it’s one that the Governor and I take very seriously.”
I could not agree more with Commissioner Nicely’s statement. That concern is shared by me and other people who live in Tennessee, as well. Therefore, while Certificates for Driving are not perfect, we should not go back to the pre-2001 situation. I believe that the issuance of Certificates for Driving should be reinstated immediately while we address the issues of implementation. The key to smooth implementation is uniform application of the requirements to obtain a Certificate for Driving or Drivers’ License. That way we can drive safely with our families on our roads and also be secure in our state.
Juan Canedo is a Sociologist, Community Organizer, and President of the Hispanic Community Group of Tennessee
The comments posted here are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinion of the Hispanic Nashville Notebook. Material that should not be attributed to the Hispanic Nashville Notebook is often indicated on this site in green text or in quotes.