Opinion | State IDs and driver’s licenses are vital to Michiganders’ health
What do doctor’s appointments, banks, schools, libraries, and Michigan roads all have in common? Without a state-issued ID or driver’s license, you don’t have access to them. And each of them is necessary for a healthy life. As public health researchers, we know that Michigan residents who lack state-issued IDs or driver’s licenses struggle to get preventive health services like vaccines, prenatal care, and medical screenings—low cost health services that save countless lives.
Michiganders without state-issued IDs or driver’s licenses also struggle to access financial resources and educational opportunities and safely get to work, school, and medical appointments. The Drive SAFE bills (HB 4835 and HB 4836) currently being considered by the Rules & Competitiveness Committee in the Michigan Legislature would remove barriers to accessing these health promoting ID documents and would ultimately help save lives and promote health.
Currently, Michigan residents who can’t prove legal presence – such as citizens born abroad, undocumented immigrants, and rural and elderly residents who cannot access their birth certificates – are prohibited from getting driver’s licenses or state-issued IDs in Michigan. In contrast, states like Illinois, Virginia, Colorado and 14 other states have systems in place that allow these residents to access state-issued IDs and driver’s licenses. The Drive SAFE bills being considered would allow Michigan to join these other states to eliminate unnecessary barriers to preventative health services and other health-promoting resources.
Recently, we interviewed staff at clinics across southeastern Michigan about barriers to health for immigrant patients. Staff repeatedly told us that access to a valid driver’s license was preventing patients from receiving needed preventative health services. One staff member shared how challenging it was for some pregnant women to access prenatal care because they did not have a valid license.
This staff member at a clinic in Detroit explained: “It’s very hard. Patients that need these ultrasounds, they’re constantly not showing up for their ultrasounds. They’re scared to drive. Most of these ladies have an expired driver’s license for years and they don’t want to risk it. They don’t even want to risk coming to the clinic anymore because they don’t have other transportation.”
These women who needed ultrasounds – a preventative medical screening that saves the lives of infants and mothers – were unable to receive a screening because current Michigan law prevents them from accessing driver’s licenses.
Aside from being able to legally drive and access medical services, having a driver’s license or state-issued ID provides access to community resources most residents take for granted. These resources are essential for taking care of yourself and your family. The current legal barriers to state-issued IDs make it extremely hard for some Michiganders to do every-day things like open a bank account, sign your children up for school, pick up a medical prescription, or sign up for a youth soccer team. Extensive public health research shows that these types of resources are fundamental to living a healthy life and essential for community health.
Our state is undergoing a public health crisis. We do not need yet one more barrier to good health in Michigan. It is urgent that the Michigan Legislature passes the Drive SAFE bills to give all Michigan residents the opportunity to care for their health and that of their community. We urge you to ask your Michigan representative to vote yes for the Drive SAFE bills to expand access to state-issued IDs.
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