Lawmaker pushes for English-only CDL tests in South Carolina

| 1/11/2008

A legislative effort in the South Carolina statehouse is intended to ensure that aspiring truckers and other drivers have a firm grasp of the English language before they obtain their licenses to drive.

Senate Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, has introduced a bill – S857 – that would require all state agencies and local governments to “offer all services, publications, printed, audio, and video materials, and tests 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.

Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, is pursuing passage of another bill – S932 – that would apply solely to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Five states – Maine, New Hampshire, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming – limit licensing tests to English only. Efforts to adopt the standard are expected to draw consideration this year in states that include Missouri, Ohio and Virginia.

McConnell said changes are needed in South Carolina because the DMV offers driving tests in German, French and Spanish despite the fact regulations on CDLs requires 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.

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

“It’s a great thing,” said Rick Craig, OOIDA’s director of regulatory affairs. “All states should be doing it.”

He also said that making the English requirement standard for both portions of the test is vital, partly because “it’s the only way you’re really going to know for sure” that applicants can communicate in English.

A separate effort expected to draw consideration during the session that started Tuesday, Jan. 8, would authorize identification cards to be issued by the DMV only to people legally and permanently in the United States. Driver’s licenses would be prohibited.

The bill – S869 – also would get tough with people who aid illegal immigrants gain access to the country. Anyone found guilty of helping conceal, harbor or shelter in the state illegal immigrants would face a minimum $5,000 fine and/or at least five years in prison.

To view other legislative activities of interest for South Carolina, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor