House: Truck drivers should speak English

Thursday, March 29, 2007

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The House voted Wednesday to require commercial drivers be able to communicate in English and take their certification test without translators to get their licenses.

Commercial truck drivers would also need to show they can read highway signs, fill out forms and respond to official inquires, such as about what they are hauling.

Sponsor Rep. Neal St. Onge said it is a safety issue when a truck driver cannot read road signs and written information about construction and traffic conditions.

"Commercial drivers are driving down the road in an 80,000-pound rocket full of gasoline," said St. Onge, R-Ellisville.

Critics said there is no evidence to suggest that drivers who cannot speak English are less safe than those who can.

Rep. John Burnett, D-Kansas City, said the requirement would open the door to discrimination by license testers who could deny licenses by claiming an applicant's English is not fluent enough.

Currently people can take the written commercial license test in English or Spanish by computer. Evaluators during the road test currently can gesture to explain instructions.

The House has already endorsed measures that would require English be spoken in official proceedings, bar illegal immigrants from state colleges and universities and require police to ask about the immigration and citizenship status of anyone they arrest.

Rep. Tim Flook said that unlike other "symbolic" measures, the drivers license restrictions are "something that actually protects people."

Flook, R-Liberty, has opposed much of the previous legislation.

The bill was endorsed by voice vote, but both Republicans and Democrats said they supported the driving restrictions during floor debate.

Rep. Tim Meadows, a former truck driver, said the licensing of drivers is an important safety check. He said communication and language skills are important.

"These things aren't toys. And if you're on the road with one of these things and you get hit or your family gets hit, then (there is) the possibility of not being able to communicate with one of the drivers of one of these things when you need to," said Meadows, D-Imperial.

The bill requires another vote before moving to the Senate.

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Commercial license bill is HB245

On the Net:

Legislature: http://www.moga.mo.gov

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