States pursue English-only driver testing requirement

| 10/7/2009

At least three states have taken on the task this year of ensuring that aspiring truckers and other drivers have a firm grasp of the English language before they obtain their licenses to drive.

Currently, at least six states limit licensing tests to English only. Efforts in South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee were pursued during the past few months, but failed to win favor from lawmakers in their respective statehouses. These bills can be brought back for consideration during their 2010 regular sessions.

The South Carolina bill would require all state agencies and local governments to “offer all services, publications, printed, audio, and video materials, and test in an English-only format” unless directed otherwise by federal law or regulation. The requirement would apply to people applying for commercial driver’s licenses.

A similar effort was offered during the 2008 session. Despite clearing the South Carolina Senate, that bill died in the House. Renewed efforts in the House – H3771 – and Senate – S3 – are in committee where they can be considered once lawmakers return early next year.

Senate Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, has sought changes in South Carolina because the Department of Motor Vehicles offers driving tests in German, French and Spanish despite the fact that regulations on CDLs require applicants to be able to understand and to speak the English language.

Opponents say there are no studies that suggest English proficiency makes better drivers. Others say there are more pressing issues to address in the state.

Advocates for the English standard say it’s a matter of safety.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is encouraged by the increased pursuit in states to make sure potential truckers can communicate in English.

Rick Craig, OOIDA’s director of regulatory affairs, said that making the English requirement standard for both portions of the test is vital and all states should be doing it.

“It’s the only way you’re really going to know for sure” that applicants can communicate in English, he said.

A bill to make English the only language for a driver’s license exam came up a little short this year in the Georgia General Assembly.

Georgia’s license exam consists of two written knowledge exams, a road rules test and a road sign test, and a driving test. The road rules test is available in 11 foreign languages.

The bill – SB67 – failed to advance to the governor after the Senate and House weren’t able to agree on wording in the legislation.

A Tennessee Senate-approved bill was sidelined until next year after a House subcommittee opted against advancing it. The bill – HB293 – initially called for English-only driver’s licensing. However, it was changed to allow people in the country legally to obtain a temporary license for the length of their stay.

A separate effort – HB262/SB63 – calls for all written driver’s exams to be offered solely in English.

To view other legislative activities of interest for South Carolina in 2009, click here. For Georgia, click here. For Tennessee, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Editor’s Note: Please share your thoughts with us about the legislation included in this story. Comments may be sent to