Virginia legislation would limit drivers’ tests to English-only

| Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Out of concern for safety on the state’s roads, a Virginia lawmaker has offered legislation intended to help ensure that people issued driver’s licenses in the state understand English.

Another bill up for consideration this session would designate English as the official language in the state.

State figures show that 864,000 Virginia residents don’t speak English and of those people 44, percent speak Spanish. Those numbers are expected to increase by 30 percent during the next eight years, reported.

Delegate Daniel Marshall III, R-Danville, introduced a bill – HB376 – that would require all driver’s license exams in the state to be conducted exclusively in English. It also would prohibit the Department of Motor Vehicles from supplying or permitting the use of interpreters to help with the exams.

Virginia law now allows driver’s license applicants to take the written and driving portions of the exam in Spanish. Aspiring truckers and motorists also are allowed to use interpreters; they even are allowed to bring their own interpreters if the Department of Motor Vehicles can’t provide someone who speaks their language. Applicants can also have the test read to them if they can speak English, but are unable to read or write, reported.

Supporters say restrictions are needed to help ensure that aspiring truckers and other drivers have a firm grasp of the English language before they obtain their license to drive. They also point out that federal regulations require CDL applicants to be able to read and speak English sufficiently.

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

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 South Carolina.

Another bill offered for consideration in Virginia would go one step further to encourage immigrants to learn the English language. Sponsored by Delegate Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, the bill – HB55 – would require all government-written communication, including Web sites and official documents, to be in English only.

Exceptions would be made for court and police documents, health care materials and schools.

The bills are in the House Rules Committee.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Virginia in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor