Feds looking to tighten English law for truckers
Associated Press
Jul 18, 2008


by Jay Reeves

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Manuel Castillo was driving a truck through Alabama hauling onions and left with a $500 ticket for something he didn't think he was doing: speaking English poorly.
Castillo, who was stopped on his way back to California, said he knows federal law requires him to be able to converse in English with an officer but he thought his language skills were good enough to avoid a ticket.
Still, Castillo said he plans to pay the maximum fine of $500 rather than return to Alabama to fight the ticket. "It just doesn't seem fair to be ticketed if I wasn't doing anything dangerous on the road," he said.
Federal law requires that anyone with a commercial driver's license speak English well enough to talk with police. Authorities last year issued 25,230 tickets nationwide for violations. Now the federal government is trying to tighten the English requirement, saying the change is needed for safety reasons.
Most states let truckers and bus drivers take at least part of their license tests in languages other than English. But the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has proposed rules requiring anyone applying for a commercial drivers license to speak English during their road test and vehicle inspection. The agency wants to change its rules to eliminate the use of interpreters, and congressional approval isn't required.
Drivers could still take written tests in other languages in states where that is allowed, and they wouldn't have to be completely fluent during the road test, said Bill Quade, an associate administrator with the agency.
"Our requirement is that drivers understand English well enough to respond to a roadside officer and to be able to converse," said Quade, who heads enforcement. Drivers need to be able to communicate with authorities about their loads and their vehicles, he said.
A handful of states and organizations are supporting the change, and no one opposed the new rule in comments submitted to the agency.
The rule change, which Quade said would likely take effect next year, could particularly affect the nation's fast-growing Spanish-speaking population.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated last year that more than 17 percent of the nation's 3.4 million truck drivers were Hispanic, as were more than 11 percent of its 578,000 bus drivers. It's unknown how many speak both Spanish and English.
The issue of English-speaking drivers also could become larger if the Bush administration succeeds with efforts to make it easier for trucks to enter the United States from Mexico