truck driver fined for bad english
debaron at illinois.edu
Fri Jul 18 18:28:05 UTC 2008
FYI, from the Associated Press:
July 17, 2008
Feds look to tighten English law for truckers
By JAY REEVES
Associated Press Writer
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
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 drivers 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
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
"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
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. Trucks already are allowed to
enter border areas under a pilot program.
An Alabama state trooper thought Castillo, 50, couldn't speak English
well enough to drive an 18-wheeler when he was headed back to
California from picking up onions in Glennville, Ga. A driver for 20
years, Castillo was stopped in west Alabama for a routine inspection.
Castillo, who says he speaks English at roughly a third-grade level,
said he understood when the trooper asked him where he was heading and
to see his commercial driver's license and registration. He said he
responded in English, though he speaks with an accent.
Castillo wasn't speeding, and the inspection and computer check turned
up no offenses, so he was surprised to get a ticket for being a "non-
English speaking driver."
"I had heard that Congress had passed that law, so I knew people were
getting tickets," he said in an interview in Spanish. "But it didn't
seem fair to me because I was communicating fine with him. I don't
know a lot of things, but when it comes to my work I understand
everything people say to me."
Castillo, a permanent U.S. resident who lives in a farming community
near Fresno, said he took his California license test in Spanish
because it's the language he's most comfortable speaking.
Jan Mendoza of the California Department of Motor Vehicles said the
state gives the written test in both English and Spanish, but the
roadside portion of the exam is in English only because of the federal
Limiting the road portion of the CDL test to English-only conversation
would help eliminate drivers who don't speak English well enough to
talk to an officer on the roadside, Quade said. He sees no conflict in
continuing to let applicants take the written test in languages other
"The level of English proficiency we are looking for at the roadside
is basic. The (written) CDL is a whole different level. There's
multiple choice, fairly in-depth quarters that require more of an
understanding of the English language."
English-only testing for commercial licenses is limited to just seven
states, according to the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers
Association, which tracks the issue. Those include Maine, New
Hampshire, Oregon, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wyoming and Missouri,
which recently passed the rule, according to the group.
The OOIDA supports the English-language rules for commercial drivers,
as does the American Trucking Association, said spokesman Clayton Boyce.
"It doesn't require them to be super fluent, just to follow road
signs, directions and be able to comply with an officer," said Boyce.
"It's not a cultural requirement, it's a safety requirement."
Boyce's group teamed with another industry organization, the Truckload
Carrier Association, in recent years in a driver recruitment campaign
that included trying to bring more Hispanics into trucking amid a
Deborah Sparks, a spokeswoman for the Truckload Carrier group, said
the driver shortage has eased now, she said, but language and driver
recruitment could become an issue again.
"Once the economy picks up we'll have a shortage again," she said.
Associated Press reporter Garance Burke in Fresno, Calif., contributed
to this report.
Professor of English and Linguistics
Department of English
University of Illinois
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801
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