Book Online
4 April, 2014

A shame for foreign-language learners, Ian McIntosh comments

Ian McIntosh in car

Here at RED we are proud of our school’s diversity, we’ve taught men and women from across the world to drive safely and pass the UK driving test for as long as anyone can remember. Since 2000, it’s been possible to take the practical and theory tests in up to 19 different languages, as well as English and Welsh. As of today 7 April 2014, tests must be conducted in only English or Welsh.

We think this is a poor move by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (formerly the DSA). The UK is a nation of diverse peoples, passing the tests is hard enough but the added complexity of doing so in a new language is an unnecessary demand for those who are here legitimately, and whose mother tongue is not English.

Patrick McLoughlin, the Secretary of State for Transport cites the primary reason as road safety.  This is highly questionable, as many Brits hire cars in Spain every summer. Does not speaking Spanish make us a bigger risk on Spanish roads? It is far more important that the UK-based drivers are given proper driving skills and road safety training, the demand that this be taught in English makes access to training and subsequent licensing less likely.

Not being able to take the test in your mother tongue could mean more unlicensed drivers on the roads, making it more dangerous for everyone. RED receives around 100 requests per month for foreign language driving lessons. Across our Driving Instructor community, we receive many more direct requests as people in their own communities learn to drive. Of the typical 1.5m driving tests per year only 0.7% were in a foreign language.

We believe that the primary reason for this change in the law is the risk of fraud. Until now candidates could either use the Theory Test programmes with foreign language voice-overs or request an interpreter. The latter did lead to some cheating, and there is clear evidence that this has happen with a Chinese interpreter being sent to jail for such abuse. In the last four years, some 800 test passes have been revoked due to fraud.

With a little imagination, the government could have found a better solution than to simply withdraw the option. A better system would accommodate new citizens, as well as visitors to the UK who need a driving license.

Here at RED we feel that foreign speaking learners understand the costs involved when paying for an interpreter if a family member or friend cannot help out. The going rate for an interpreter in the practical test was around £100. These costs are negligible when compared to the typical cost of learning to drive and taking the tests. That fact that it is a criminal offence to secure a test pass fraudulently is already spelled out clearly, with interpreters signing a declaration of understanding to that effect.

All things considered, we are saddened that the UK has changed the law and made it less tolerant of foreign speaking learner drivers – interestingly there were only 2000 responses to the government consultation. I for one never even knew there was a consultation. So from 46,000 driving instructors on the register for example and countless other interested parties, only 70% of the particularly keen 2000 said it was a good idea.

Ian McIntosh is available for comment regarding this issue, please contact PHA Media for interview requests.

Do you speak a foreign language and would like to join RED Driving School? Read more about becoming a driving instructor at RED.