By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor
Efforts to ensure that aspiring drivers have a firm grasp of the English language before they obtain their licenses to drive are likely to be discussed at statehouses around the country in the months ahead.
Supporters say they are concerned that people are allowed to drive on roads without a command of the English language. They say it’s a matter of safety.
Opponents say there are no studies that suggest English proficiency makes better drivers.
At least nine states already limit licensing tests to English only. Seven states have the language mandate for commercial drivers. Six states offer their tests in at least 17 languages. California leads the nation with 32 language offerings.
Lawmakers in Tennessee and Montana have filed bills for consideration that would only offer driver’s license testing in English.
Tennessee state Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, is once again pursuing a bill to narrow the language options on the state’s written portion of the driver’s license exam, including commercial licenses, from four to one. Tennessee now permits exams to be conducted in English, Japanese, Korean and Spanish.
In 2010, Ketron pursued a similar effort that sought to require all portions of the exam to be administered in English. The bill advanced from committee, but it did not get a Senate floor vote.
Ketron has said in the past that the legislation “sends a message” on Tennessee’s preference for English.
This year’s version – SB10 – awaits assignment to committee for the session that begins Jan. 11.
The pursuit of English-only license testing is also under way in the Montana statehouse. Sen. Bruce Tutvedt, R-Kalispell, is preparing legislation for the session that opened Monday, Jan. 3, which would require the knowledge test, road test and skills test to be offered only in English.
Montana now allows exams to be offered in English, Chinese, Russian and Spanish.
This will not be the Legislature’s first time to consider the English requirement. During each of the previous two sessions, an effort to apply the English requirement to all forms of driver’s licenses, including commercial driver’s licenses, never emerged from committee.
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