English-only CDL testing requirement advances in South Carolina

| 1/25/2008

A South Carolina Senate panel has advanced a bill intended to ensure that aspiring truckers and other drivers have a firm grasp of the English language before they obtain their licenses to drive.

Sponsored by Senate Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, the bill 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 affect people applying for commercial driver’s licenses.

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

McConnell said changes are needed in South Carolina because the Department of Motor Vehicles offers driving tests in German, French and Spanish despite the fact that federal 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.

McConnell’s bill – S857 – now awaits consideration before the full Senate. If approved there, it would move to the House.

A separate effort would apply the rule solely to the DMV. Sponsored by Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, the bill – S932 – is in the Senate Transportation Committee.

One other bill 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 in gaining access to the country. Anyone found guilty of helping to conceal, harbor or shelter in the state illegal immigrants would face a minimum $5,000 fine and/or at least five years in prison.

Sponsored by Sen. Dick Elliott, D-North Myrtle Beach, the bill is in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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


– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor