Why Drivers Must Know English
Why Drivers Must Know English
The dangers inherent in foreign-language driver’s license exams
Foreign-Language Driver’s License Exams Threaten Public Safety: Drivers who cannot read and understand English are a threat to the safety of all motorists, including themselves. Such drivers cannot understand traffic signs and directions, read highway warning signs or read hazard signs on other vehicles. And they cannot communicate with police or public safety officials in the event of an accident or other emergency.
- Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations that govern motor carriers engaged in interstate commerce require drivers to “read and speak the English language sufficiently to converse with the general public, to understand highway traffic signs and signals in the English language, to respond to official inquiries, and to make entries on reports and records. If reading and speaking English is required for driver’s safety in interstate commerce, it should be in the states.
- In 2004 a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics official attributed a sharp increase in work fatalities in Alabama including a 72% increase in work related traffic fatalities, to the fact that increasing numbers of employees and drivers could not read or understand warning signs in English.
- Four Newton, Mass. teenagers were killed when their school bus crashed in New Brunswick during a high school band trip. The victims’ parents blamed the accident on the driver’s inability to read and understand traffic signs in English.
- In Pennsylvania, a truck driver who could not understand English ran into and killed an entire family of five. The driver failed to heed a warning sign banning trucks over 10 tons on the road he was traveling. His truck weighed 40 tons.
- In Milwaukee, a family of eight perished after a truck’s tail light assembly fell off directly in front of their minivan. The truck driver did not speak English and did not understand other drivers who had tried to warn him of the imminent danger.
Foreign-Language Driver’s License Exams Invite Fraud. Giving driver’s license exams in foreign languages increases the risk of cheating and makes it very difficult to prevent or detect fraud.
- In Colorado, federal agents uncovered a Department of Motor Vehicle ring they accused of using foreign-language driver’s tests to put hundreds of illegal aliens behind the wheels of heavy trucks and cars. The alleged mastermind of the ring said he would sit next to applicants who did not speak English and pose as a translator while giving test-takers answers to test questions he had memorized.
- The Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles reviewed its test procedures after discovering that it had issued up to 1,000 fraudulently obtained commercial and regular driver’s licenses. A Polish interpreter and ringleader of the scam, was accused of giving test answers to those taking the written driving exam.
- The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation stopped using Russian, Vietnamese, and Chinese language driver’s tests after discovering widespread cheating that raised serious safety concerns 15 months after the tests were introduced.
Foreign-Language Driver’s License Exams Can Obstruct Law Enforcement. Foreign-language driver’s tests create legal loopholes that frustrate law enforcement.
- Courts are overturning DWI convictions in cases in which violators are not given breathalyzer instructions and warnings in their native language. Courts have ruled that allowing drivers to take licensing tests in their native language creates an obligation for states to issue traffic warnings and citations in the same language.
Non-English Speaking Drivers Endanger Themselves and Emergency Personnel.
- Alabama emergency personnel and paramedics were frustrated in their efforts to help a Spanish-speaking driver who could not communicate the injuries he suffered after he fell asleep at the wheel and was thrown from his truck.
- A rescuer tried to warn a Massachusetts man who could not speak English that his car was on fire and barely got him to leave before the car was engulfed in flames.
These are only a few of many examples of accidents or incidents in which drivers’ inability to read or understand English has been a major factor. State officials who allow written driver’s license exams to be taken in multiple languages and issue driver’s licenses to people who cannot read or understand the English language are clearly ignoring their first and most important duty -- to protect the public’s safety.
Non-English speaking drivers who use U.S. roads and highways every day pose a far greater threat to the public safety than tourists or occasional business visitors.
 Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Regulations: § 391.11(b) (2).
 The Birmingham News, “State workplace perils deadly,” Sept. 23, 2004.
 Boston Herald, “Nightmare; Canada crash claims lives of 4 Newton kids,” April 28, 2001.
 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Utah licensing firms probed,” Dec. 4, 2003: D-1.
 Associated Press, “Driver in Milwaukee highway tragedy drove on despite warning,” Oct. 5, 1999.
 The Denver Post, “DMV inquiry to expand,” Feb. 13, 2005.
 The Capital Times, “License fraud hits state – Chicagoans accused of operating scam,” June 8, 2004.
 The Philadelphia Inquirer, “For immigrants, driving tests are roadblock,” Nov. 24, 2000.
 Raleigh-Durham News & Observer, DWI laws hit language barrier, Nov. 13, 2003.
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, “Many facets to summary suspension rescission hearings,” Dec. 30, 1991, p2.
 Los Angeles Time, “Passerby saves driver’s life; passenger dies,” April 27, 1992: B-1.
 The Enterprise, “Plymouth man pulled from burning car,” Oct. 22, 2004.
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