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South Dakota One of Six States Refusing to Offer Driver Exams in Spanish (or Arabic, or Somali…)

According to another Issue Memorandum presented by the Legislative Research Council to the Legislature’s Executive Board last month, South Dakota is one of just six states that offers driver license exams in English only:

Legislative Research Council, Issue Memorandum: "Driving Exam Language Offerings," November 2018, p. 2.
Legislative Research Council, Issue Memorandum: “Driving Exam Language Offerings,” November 2018, p. 2.

South Dakota business leaders would like to change that, saying that the state’s refusal to offer new Americans the chance to take their driver exam in their home language is making it harder to hire licensed drivers. Senator Reynold Nesiba (D-15/Sioux Falls) offered Senate Bill 136 last winter to allow driver exams in other languages, and the Chamber of Commerce and general contractors testified for it, but Republicans ignored good business sense and listened instead to the absurd contention of the Department of Public Safety that translating and updating the exam into one other language would cost $62,000.

For $62,000, DPS could hire a full-time Spanish translator who could translate the exam and all three driving manuals (regular, motorcycle, and commercial) in a week, then spend the rest of the year fielding e-mails and phone calls from eager residents studying for the exam (“Sí, comprendo, los Aberdeeños estan locos. Durante la prueba, no conduzcan como ellos. Disminuir la velocidad para las amarillas, y parar para los rojos.”). Instead, Republicans play cheap, shifting far more than that cost onto thousands of drivers who must pay $60 a pop just for an interpreter to help with the test.

Multiple languages for driver exams are one place where business interests coincide with public safety and equality. Senator Nesiba, bring that bill back, and let’s follow the lead of most other states (as usual) in making safe and legal access to our roads available to all of our residents.


  1. Rorschach 2018-12-03 07:29

    I don’t know about you, but I’d rather increase the number of people driving with a license and insurance.

  2. Steve Pearson 2018-12-03 08:50

    I look forward to all of the street signs in all languages as well.

  3. mike from iowa 2018-12-03 09:09

    I look forward to all of the street signs in all languages as well.

    Why? Your side can barely keep up in English only.

    What would be Hillary-ous is every foreign tourist offered to pay in their native country’s currency.

  4. mike from iowa 2018-12-03 09:12

    What about South Dakota hospitals? Do they offer translators on call for foreign patients?

  5. Dicta 2018-12-03 09:16

    Do we know the number of potential applicants who would possibly utilize such a service? I’m not against the idea at all, but just curious if there is enough ‘demand’, so to speak.

  6. OldSarg 2018-12-03 09:18

    There shouldn’t be driving tests in languages that do not reflect the signage we have on our roads and the rules by which our laws are enforced. It would be silly to have a test in the Somali language and the person not able to understand a simple street sign. The truth is part of becoming a contributing member of any society is assimilation. Without assimilation they are simply invaders.

    Immigrants would be welcome as full members in the American family if they accepted four simple actions:
    1) Come here legally.
    2) They need to accept English as the language of communication.
    3) They were expected to live by American societal standards such as being self-reliant, hardworking, and morally upright.
    4) They need to take pride in their American identity and believe in America’s republic government and understand that all people are equal and have equal rights (egalitarian principles).

    None of these are difficult but all are necessary to becoming part of the National community.

  7. Dicta 2018-12-03 09:32

    “Without assimilation, they are simply invaders.”

    How long does one have to learn the English language before they obtain ‘invader’ status, you inflammatory simpleton?

  8. jerry 2018-12-03 09:34

    Who needs a driver’s licence anyway? Driving lessons, for sure, and eye hand testing for reflex control, absolutely. But a tax to drive, ridiculous. Only CDL drivers should be licensed and in their language. We have such a shortage of truck drivers that we depend on foreign nationals to deliver our goods. That is how the Russian got here in the first place.

    Prickly PEARson, driving signs are universal. “The Convention on Road Signs and Signals, commonly known as the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, is a multilateral treaty designed to increase road safety and aid international road traffic by standardizing the signing system for road traffic (road signs, traffic lights and road markings) in use internationally.

    This convention was agreed upon by the United Nations Economic and Social Council at its Conference on Road Traffic in Vienna 7 October to 8 November 1968, was concluded in Vienna on 8 November 1968, and entered into force on 6 June 1978. This conference also produced the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, which complements this legislation by standardising international traffic laws.”

  9. Donald Pay 2018-12-03 13:15

    I think we discussed this topic several years ago. I’ll reiterate that I live in an area with a lot of foreign students and academics. There is driver training offered here in several languages, and driving tests in Wisconsin is offered in eight languages. We had a lot of Hmong refugees, and that community is now fairly well integrated into American life.

    One of the new approaches to education here, and I think also in Sioux Falls, is that there are dual language schools. That way native English speakers can learn how to speak Spanish while Spanish-speaking kids learn English. Teachers have to be fairly fluent in both languages, so that generally limits how many kids can be educated this way.

    I see a lot of immigrant families here at the library, and the kids help the parents along with English. Of course, the older folks often want to read books in their native language. We have sections of the library with books for speakers of several different languages, and some newspapers in foreign languages, too.

    I’m sure there wouldn’t be a lot of need for all of these newfangled ideas in Pukwana, for example, but why hold Sioux Falls back from the modern world of multi-cultural sufficiency?

  10. o 2018-12-03 13:41

    OldSarge: “None of these are difficult . . .” Are you kidding; the President and his cabinet cannot live up to #3 and #4 on your list. Sorry, I couldn’t pass that one up.

  11. o 2018-12-03 13:45

    Doesn’t the driver’s license discussion blend into a voter ID discussion? I presume a diver’s license is the easiest ID for most to get — but if we limit access to that, we also potentially limit access to voting. Does this become a back door to limit the ability to vote from those who do not fluently read English?

  12. Debbo 2018-12-03 15:53

    Refusing to offer most government services in 3-4 languages is just racist, mean and petty. Puts a pretty big nick in SD’s “business-friendly” mantra too.

  13. buckobear 2018-12-03 16:08

    Wanna bet that the dealership that sells ’em a car or the friendly insurance salesman doesn’t give a shuck whether or not they speaka da english ? They’ll get a translator to help get the Benjamins !!

  14. TAG 2018-12-03 16:20

    “and the Chamber of Commerce and general contractors testified for it, but…”
    “Multiple languages for driver exams are one place where business interests coincide with public safety and equality. ”

    Exactly, Corey. Even when solutions are a win-win-win, (tri-partisan) Our leaders fall back into tired old xenophopic fear-based politics.

  15. D. A. Brechtelsbauer MD 2018-12-03 18:20

    I am a retired Sioux Falls physician and have worked in both Avera & Sanford. Interpreters are made available for patients. Sometimes an on site translators, sometimes via speaker phone. Speaker phone used for less common languages.
    Family translators are occasionally used, but are not preferred and used only as a last resort.

  16. Ken 2018-12-03 20:42

    SD is always behind any progressive. Notice that the other five states refusing to print the drivers test in anything but English are also Republican-held. The GOP is infamous for their hatred of anyone not white, rich and born here. It’s been this way for the last 45 years I’ve lived here, so why would they change anything now? They don’t care how bad they look to anyone else and never have. And until the stupid voters here learn the alphabet past the letter “R,” nothing’s going to change.

  17. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-12-04 05:48

    O makes an excellent connection. Republicans are willing to vote against what the Chamber wants when it might help brown people vote.

  18. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-12-04 05:55

    Dicta, good question about “demand.” The answer requires some speculation. Pew said in 2014 that there were 29,000 Hispanics in South Dakota, 20% of whom were foreign-born. So that’s 5,800 Hispanics who might be new to the English language. The Census says in 2017 we were 3.8% Hispanic, which would give us 33,000 Hispanics, which if Pew’s immigation numbers hold would give us 6,600 foreign-born.

    New American Economy’s August 2016 estimated there are over 4,000 undocumented immigrants in the state… and they are all here because someone in South Dakota is willing to give them a job… to which they probably have to drive.

  19. mike from iowa 2018-12-04 07:43

    Thanks, Doc @ 18:20. I knew translators were available. I didn’t know how the process worked. Thanks again. Learned something new, again.

  20. Araceli Moya 2019-11-18 13:49

    I would translate all three manuals.

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