[lg policy] New Jersey: Drivers need some knowledge of English

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Wed Aug 11 14:14:24 UTC 2010

Drivers need some knowledge of English
August 11, 2010

 It's impossible to expect police officers to be able to communicate
in every language.

Sometimes, political correctness leads us to somehow go from what's
simple and logical to what's unnecessarily complex and illogical. Case
in point, last month, the state Supreme Court, by a 4-3 ruling,
overturned the conviction of a driver who had been pulled over in 2007
because Plainfield (Union County) police officers suspected he was
intoxicated. The man, who spoke only Spanish, refused to take a
Breathalyzer test. The officers did not speak Spanish, so they
explained the legal consequences of refusing to take a breath test to
German Marquez in English. Still refusing the test even after the
explanation, Marquez was arrested by the officers and later convicted
of driving while intoxicated. But he appealed the ruling on the
grounds that he didn't understand the officers' warning about what it
meant to refuse the Breathalyzer. Four New Jersey Supreme Court
justices agreed with him and tossed out his conviction, saying it is
the responsibility of police in New Jersey to make sure suspects are
made aware of their rights and the consequences they may face in a
language they understand.

We disagree with the court. The onus of knowing the rules of the road
and understanding the legal ramifications of refusing a Breathalyzer
test must be on individual drivers. To expect that police be able to
communicate with every suspected driver in every language in the world
is insane. Imagine the cost for interpreters local police departments
could accumulate. Driving is a privilege, not a right. To attain that
privilege, every driver should have to demonstrate a certain
understanding of English. Why? Because all the signs on our roads are
written in English. For safety's sake, all drivers, no matter their
primary language, must be able to read and understand road signs.

The state Motor Vehicle Commission offers the written road test for
those seeking a New Jersey driver's license in 10 languages, Spanish
being one of them. Yet just because they can take the test in a
foreign language doesn't mean drivers are absolved of having to
understand the road signs. So, likewise, drivers who primarily speak
another language shouldn't get a free pass to not submit to a
Breathalyzer test. Otherwise, police are going to start encountering a
whole lot more drunken drivers who say "No hablo ingles." South
Jersey's 8th Legislative District Assembly members -- Scott Rudder and
Dawn Addiego, both Republicans -- have sponsored legislation that
would specifically say that police officers may presume all licensed
drivers know they are bound to submit to a Breathalyzer test if pulled
over and asked by officers. The bill says police would only have to
read a standard statement about the implied consent rules in English.

This is what's simple and logical. We can't let drivers in this state
use a real (or pretend) inability to understand English to become a
pass to drive while drunk or high. New legislation is needed to clean
up the mess the state Supreme Court has created.



 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com


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