Demand high for Utah driver’s license tests in new languages; Legislature considers adding more

Utah Public Safety Commissioner Jess L. Anderson, left, and Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, address a news conference announcing the new law in which the Utah driver’s license department will now address the driver’s license test languages ​​spoken statewide at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Demand for driver’s test tests in new languages ​​is high as the Utah Legislature considers a bill that would further expand the test’s language options.

The Utah Department of Public Safety said since Jan. 2, when the driver’s license division began offering the test in Spanish, Tongan, Vietnamese, Mandarin and Portuguese, about 800 people have applied to take the test in a language other than English. Officials said Spanish was the most requested language, followed by Mandarin.

The new language offerings are thanks to SB216, a law passed last year that required the test to be offered in the state’s five most commonly spoken languages, in addition to English. However, HB141 seeks to extend this law and would allow individuals to take the test in their preferred language and use an interpreter.

Sen. Luz Escamilla, who sponsored SB216, said many people with little or no knowledge of English failed the driver’s license test multiple times because of minor language understanding problems.

“Sometimes it’s a word,” said Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City. “People ask, ‘Well, don’t they have to understand what they’re doing?’ Absolutely, but have you seen the manual? Have you tried taking the test? It’s also about understanding.”

Nubia Peña, director of Utah’s Department of Multicultural Affairs, added that the legislation goes beyond making the test more accessible or improving public safety.

“This is so much more than just taking an exam. It’s about expanding the opportunities for families to thrive. This is coupled with economic pathways to better jobs that allow them access to a better quality of life for their families and then to contribute to the state,” Peña said. “If you want to work in the state of Utah, you need to be able to move and drive.”

Who can take the test in another language?

The language options are available to anyone eligible for a driver’s license. Persons with refugee or asylum status are entitled to temporary licenses and existing legislation already allows them to take the test in their mother tongue.

The new language offerings do not apply to driver cards, which are available to undocumented immigrants and those on humanitarian probation who do not meet the documentation requirements to obtain a driver’s license. Escamilla said there were talks about expanding language offerings on driver cards but there would be no legislation on the subject at this session.

She said although some lawmakers consider those eligible for driver’s license cards as a separate demographic, the reality that many families have mixed immigrant status means that banning undocumented immigrants from taking the test in their preferred language also impacts has its citizens or resident family members.

“We are working with some lawmakers who, by providing more evidence, have a strong belief that this is a public safety issue and not necessarily a conversation about immigration,” Escamilla said.

Christopher Caras, director of the driver’s license department, said he welcomes feedback from the community when they find they are being rejected from taking the test in the languages ​​offered. Individuals can provide this feedback and schedule a test on the department’s website. However, it is important to note that these languages ​​are provided by the driver’s license department and not the motor vehicle department, which does not have the same language offerings.


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Sydnee Gonzalez is a multicultural reporter for KSL.com, covering the diversity of people and communities in Utah. Se habla espanol. You can find Sydnee at @sydnee_gonzalez on Twitter.

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