Missouri bill would add motorists to English-only testing requirement

| 12/8/2009

Aspiring truck drivers in Missouri already are required to prove they have a firm grasp of the English language to obtain a license to get behind a big rig. An effort prefiled for consideration during the 2010 regular session would apply the same rule for all other drivers who want to be licensed in the state.

Rep. Cynthia Davis, R-O’Fallon, is pursuing a change that would require driver’s examinations to be administered in English.

The written test could be offered only in English. Applicants’ ability to understand traffic signs and signals written in English also would be required. They would be prohibited from using translators while taking the tests.

Supporters say they are concerned that people are allowed to drive on Missouri roads without a command of the English language.

Opponents say there are no studies that suggest English proficiency makes better drivers.

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

The bill – HB1231 – is awaiting consideration during the session that begins Jan. 6.

Other states looking at issue
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 legislation 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.

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.

In Georgia, a bill would make English the only language for a driver’s license exam. Georgia’s license exam consists of two written knowledge exams, a road rules test, a road sign test and a driving test. The road rules test is available in 11 foreign languages.

A Tennessee Senate-approved bill was sidelined until next year after a House subcommittee opted against advancing it. The bill 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 in the Volunteer State calls for all written driver’s exams to be offered solely in English.

– 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 statelegislativedesk@ooida.com.