Odd measure requires drivers to speak and read English unless they are illiterate.The ACLU of Virginia has asked the Virginia House Courts of Justice Committee to strike down a bill requiring applicants for drivers’ licenses to be able to read and speak the English language.
Oddly, the bill exempts applicants who speak English but are illiterate.
Noting the link between nationality and language, the ACLU says that the bill will have a disproportionate impact on foreign-born persons trying to obtain driver licenses, and that it seems to have little to do with driving safety.
“The Division of Motor Vehicles needs to be able to determine if applicants for drivers’ licenses know how to drive a car, if they understand the rules of the road, and if they can read traffic signs, but not how well they speak the English language,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis
“This bill creates an artificial language test for driving that has nothing to do with the ability to drive safely. It has one real purpose--to make harder it for immigrants to obtain a driver’s license. And that’s a shame.”
The ACLU believes that supporters of the bill are being disingenuous when they say they are concerned that drivers without English proficiency are a danger on the highways.
“It is very curious that a bill requiring proficiency in English to obtain a license has an exception for people who are illiterate,” added Willis. “Are the bill’s supporters saying that a non-English speaking person who understands traffic signs is more of a threat to road safety than an English speaking person who cannot read traffic signs?”
Introduced by Delegate Daniel W. Marshall of Danville, HB 1625 requires that tests for drivers’ licenses be administered only in English and that applicants be able to read, write, understand and speak the English language. The ACLU does not oppose testing of applicants to make certain they understand the meaning of road signs, so long as all applicants, regardless of language or nationality, are given the same test.
The House Courts of Justice Committee is expected to take up the bill at its meeting tomorrow.
Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022