English-only driver’s license tests will save lives

English-only driver’s test will save lives
By Phil Kent

Georgia is one of 30 states designating English as the official language of government operations, yet there is a dangerous loophole. The law lets the Georgia Department of Driver Services give driver’s license tests in 13 other foreign tongues ranging from Farsi to Laotian.

To close that loophole and protect the safety of everyone using Georgia’s roads, Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, introduced legislation requiring that written driver’s license tests be given exclusively in English to just permanent residents. It overwhelmingly passed the Senate and is expected to pass the House.

Murphy stresses that “permanent residents who intend to make Georgia their home need to be able to answer in English the basic questions asked on this important test.” (By the way, a practice exam in English is available on the DDS website so test-takers can familiarize themselves with it.)

This bill does not apply to temporary visa holders. The driver’s licenses of international business executives, tourists or students will continue to be honored. And, contrary to opponents’ misinformation, this bill is not a “Kill-Kia bill”—a reference to the massive new automobile plant built in Georgia by a South Korean company. If anything, it is a “Drive Your Kia in Safety” bill as it will make it safer for everyone to drive in Georgia.

National polls have consistently shown that 85 percent of the American people— black and white, Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative— support making English the official language of government. This is reflected by the bipartisan support S.B. 67 has received. Rep. Alan Powell, D-Elberton, says passing this law will help potential drivers understand warning signs, and will help them communicate with police or safety personnel in an emergency.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations require drivers engaged in interstate commerce to “read or speak the English language sufficiently to converse with the general public, to understand highway traffic signs and signals in the English language, to respond to official inquiries and to make entries on reports and records.” What is required of drivers engaged in interstate commerce to protect public safety should be required to protect the safety of Georgia drivers as well.

Indeed, an Atlanta-based Department of Labor expert attributed a steep rise in work-related traffic fatalities in Alabama a few years ago to the increasing number of non-English speaking driver’s on that state’s roads.

Adding Georgia to the growing list of states that require written driver’s license tests to be taken in English is an important incentive to permanent immigrants that settle in Georgia to learn English and assimilate. The Arlington, Va.-based Lexington Institute issued a white paper titled “The Value of English Proficiency in the U.S.,” which examines the economic cost attributable to the lack of English skills. It estimated that a whopping $65 billion in wages is lost every year due to worker’s inability to speak English.

Failure to pass this legislation could easily cost the lives of innocent motorists. It could also prove to be costly, since adding translators, computer programming and paperwork to accommodate other languages obviously costs extra taxpayer money. Let’s hope the House leadership understand the stakes involved and move promptly to pass this bill for the governor to sign into law.