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A new bill aims to give options to non-English speakers for taking their driver’s license exam

Traffic on Utah highway.
The Utah House Transportation Committee unanimously supported a bill to translate driver license exams into other languages.

Utah law only lets refugees and people who are granted asylum take the written driver license exam in their native language.

A legislative committee passed a new bill Monday that opens that up to anyone.

“Utah is a diverse state,” said Rep. Gay Lynn Bennion, D-Cottonwood Heights, who is sponsoring the bill. “Now is the time for you to adopt policy that will remove a significant barrier and allow more individuals to move forward in life.”

A Utah Health Department report from November 2016 shows one in seven Utahns speak a language other than English at home. The top three after English are Spanish, Chinese — including Cantonese and Mandarin — and German.

As a non-native English speaker, Yehemy Zavala said the driver’s test was incredibly challenging — even more than the citizenship exam.

“I had my driver's license test last year, and I've been here for 11 years,” Zavala told committee members. “I consider myself a bright person. I passed my citizenship test. I'm going to school, learning English and everything. But it was just more difficult for me. Understanding in my language is just easier.”

During public comment, some people also argued it’s a workforce issue.

Jeff Draper, chief operating officer for Source Construction, said finding employees is already difficult. But finding ones with valid driver's licenses is necessary.

“I personally witnessed myself and some contractors that work with us have to go and pick people up and get them to a job site,” Draper said. “In the construction world, these job sites change weekly and sometimes daily. So having employees and workers to be available to move around quickly and with ease is pretty vital.”

The bill lets the Driver License Division choose how many and which languages they offer the exam in.

If someone wants to take the test in a language that isn’t available, they would need to personally pay for a translator.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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