Bill proposes English as only language for driver’s exams

The sponsor said the bill is an issue of public safety.
Missouri currently offers the driver's license exam in 12 languages. If the bill passes, Missouri would join eight other states that restrict the test to English.

Although driver’s license examinations are currently offered in 12 languages in Missouri, a proposed House bill could limit the options to just English.

House Bill 1147 and its substitute 1186, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger, R-Lake St. Louis, and Rep. Mark Parkinson, R-St. Charles, respectively, would make English the only option for exam takers.

Gatschenberger said this is an issue of public safety, and not all signs can be recognized by shape.

“The road signs that you see out there are not just all yield signs, stop signs, things like that,” he said. “There’s some signs coming up like ‘wrong way,’ and ‘this situation's coming up’ or ‘black ice.’”

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said the Missouri State Highway Patrol has spoken out against this bill.

“They’re the people who make those decisions analytically,” Kelly said. “They have decided the right way to conduct the measurement and the examination of drivers. I think that for us to meddle in it is foolish.”

Kelly said there would be safety issues if the bill is passed.

“I was a traffic judge for seven years, and I know this stuff,” Kelly said. “The practical effect is, if you prevent people from getting driver’s licenses, that means they also can’t get insurance, and they’re going to drive anyway because they need to drive to get to work or wherever.”

Kelly said though non-English speakers are no less likely to get into accidents than native speakers, it is still important that they are covered by insurance if they do get in an accident.

Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, said that the Missouri State Highway Patrol said roads could become more dangerous if people are driving without insurance and without being trained as well behind the wheel.

Gatschenberger said because driving without insurance is illegal, it should not be a factor in whether the bill passes.

“You can’t legislate morality, and you can’t fix stupid,” he said. “If people are going to drive illegally, they’re going to drive illegally. You’re not supposed to drive in the left lane either for long periods of time, but people do it all the time.”

Kelly said the bill serves as "political grandstand."

“There’s no other purpose of the bill except to be against people who can’t speak English,” he said.

Webber also said it serves as an anti-immigration bill.

“It is definitely throwing red meat to the folks who are anti-immigrant, whether legal or illegal,” he said.

Gatschenberger said though he hears anti-immigration claims often, the sole purpose of the bill is public safety.

Missouri is one of thirty states that has declared English as the official language of the state, according to U.S. English, an organization that supports making English the official language in the United States. Eight states require driver’s license examinations to be taken in English.

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