Social & Domestic Issues

Foreign Language Driver’s Tests Threaten Public Safety

Most American motorists – at least those who speak English – are unaware that their safety on American roads and highways is being sacrificed for the sake of accommodating an ever-rising tide of illegal immigration.

The issue is fundamental: Should motorists be able to read warning signs on highways, roads, and bridges? Should they be able to communicate with police or other public safety officials in the event of an accident or emergency? In other words: should people who apply for driver’s licenses be able to read and understand the English language?

For most Americans the answer is yes!  All our highway warning and hazard signs are in English. So it’s easy to understand the danger posed by drivers who cannot read English.

But what is common sense to most people is not to many state officials charged with the duty of protecting public safety. In state after state they are caving into pressure from “immigrants rights” groups to make driver’s license exams and manuals available not only in Spanish but in many other foreign languages. The predictable result — growing carnage on our roads and highways:

  • Four Newton, Mass. teenagers were killed when their bus crashed during a school band trip. Parents of the victims blamed the accident on the bus driver’s inability to understand traffic signs in English.
  • In Pennsylvania a truck driver who could not read English ran into and killed an entire North Carolina family of five. The driver had failed to heed warning signs, including one banning trucks over 10 tons from using the road he was traveling. His truck weighed 40 tons.
  • In Alabama, a federal official attributed a big jump in work-related traffic fatalities to the fact that a growing numbers of drivers are unable to read or understand warning signs in English.

The last report is particularly troubling because Alabama should have avoided this calamity. Why? In 1990 the people of Alabama voted by a landslide 9-1 margin for a constitutional amendment making English their official language.

And a few weeks after it passed Alabama stopped giving driver’s license exams in other languages. The new policy survived a court challenge in 2001 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Alabama had the right to require that its exams be given in English. My organization, ProEnglish, filed a legal brief with the Court supporting the state. That brief was endorsed and signed by fourteen members of Congress including Alabama’s current governor, Bob Riley, who was then a U.S. Representative.

By all rights, the issue should have ended there. The people had spoken loud and clear, and the Supreme Court had upheld Alabama’s right to implement its official English policy by requiring that driver’s license exams be in English. But during the six-year battle to defend Alabama’s exam policy, Riley’s predecessor used the court challenge as a pretext to bring back the old policy of giving driver’s exams in many foreign languages.

So when Riley took office, ProEnglish members in Alabama and elsewhere thought he would move quickly to restore the English language driver’s license policy.

But Gov. Riley failed to act.

That left us no choice except to ask the courts to enforce the Alabama constitution. So with help from the Southeastern Legal Foundation, five Alabama members of ProEnglish filed suit May 17 against the Governor and the Director of the Department of Public Safety. The suit asks the court to order these state officials to restore Alabama’s policy of giving driver’s license exams exclusively in English – rather than the 13 spoken languages it offers now, including Arabic and Farsi, the Iranian language.

Only  Riley knows why he flip flopped on this critical issue and now seems unconcerned that every day there are more people being licensed to drive on Alabama roads who don’t have a clue about the meaning of highway warning signs. One reason may be the powerful and unholy alliance of extreme left-wing groups and big business which is constantly lobbying for policies to accommodate the increasing flood of illegal aliens.

We hope the governors of all 50 states won’t listen to them. After all, if warning signs aren’t vital for our safety, why bother with the huge cost and trouble of posting and constantly replacing them?

But cost is trivial compared to the risk that innocent motorists will be killed or injured as a direct result of having a multilingual testing policy. We pray that doesn’t happen, while we wait for the courts to act.


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