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Does the Semi-Truck Driver Speak English?


Last week Beth Janicek wrote an informative blog titled Who’s driving that semi-truck on the Interstate heading towards my family? McIntyre Law is currently involved in several catastrophic semi-truck accidents that have caused permanent injuries and/or death to our clients. Beth’s article struck a chord with me on the importance of proper qualification of semi-truck drivers. I would like to discuss one prong of driver qualification that is likely to come to the forefront in the coming years.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, at 49 CFR 391.11, requires that in order to get a Commercial Driver’s License, an applicant must be able to "read and speak the English language sufficiently to converse with the general public, to understand highway traffic signs and signals in the English language, to respond to official inquiries, and to make entries on reports and records.”


As Beth discussed, safety standards for truck drivers in Mexico and the United States vary greatly. In Oklahoma, we have seen a plethora of collisions involving drivers in the United States usually on work permits. We have seen that some of the drivers involved in trucking collisions do not speak English sufficiently to converse with the general public. This vague definition has allowed carriers to hire drivers with no little to no English speaking and writing abilities and put them on our nation’s roadways.

So why is it important for a driver to speak English? As the rule says, drivers need to understand highway traffic signs and signals. As you know, in the United States these signs and signals are written in English. Further, entries on driver’s logs and reports must be in English. This is important for both the carrier and the driving public to ensure that a semi-driver obeys the hours of service rules and can obey the rules of the road usually detailed in traffic control devices and other communications on our nation’s highways.

Now you may be wondering if this is an issue and/or will continue to be one in the future. In 2006, the U.S. trucking industry as a whole employed 3.4 million drivers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the number of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers is expected to grow 13 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is about as fast as average, mainly as a result of increasing demand for goods in the U.S. An article prepared for the American Trucking Association details that within the long-haul sector, there is an estimated shortage of 20,000 drivers currently. That shortage is expected to increase to 111,000 by 2014.

Now as the United States becomes more diverse this is an area that will continue climb in importance. Demographics from the above articles show an aging workforce in the trucking industry. As in anything, when supply shortens and demand becomes more we will see carriers and independent owners alike wanting to construe the English speaking version of our Federal Rules as liberally as possible. However, as stated above these rules are in place for a purpose and must be enforced to protect my, yours and every American family regardless of race and/or ethnic background.

I would welcome any discussion on this topic. I fully undestand it may be viewed controversial in an age where some states are attempting to implement "English only" rules. However, as in anything we all can learn from one another so I would welcome discussion of both the pros and cons of this issue as it relates to the trucking industry and the motoring public’s safety.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding an 18-wheeler accident in Oklahoma, please feel free to contact me. In Texas we recommend you call Beth Janicek at the Law Offices of Beth Janicek. In Minnesota we recommend you call upon Mike Bryant with Bradshaw and Bryant for legal advice. And in Iowa call Steve Lombardi, with the Lombardi Law Firm.


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  1. Facebook User says:
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    This is an excellent post and a tremendous example of why we need for English to be the sole language when an individual is pursuing a driver’s license.

    The risk is TOO great and lives are NOT expendable at the hands of a motorist who cannot understand English well enough to communicate or understand the many road signs found on our roads.

    Many states, including my own (Tennessee) allow license examinees to take the exam with a dictionary in their native language. Ridiculous!!

    Pandering and making things easier at the expense of human lives is unconscionable.

    In addition, our law enforcement officers have a difficult task already when pulling over a vehicle and not knowing what the outcome will be
    and to compound the “stop and uncertainty” with a motorist who cannot understand lawful commands is absurd. A police officer should not have to know another language or call dispatch for another officer to do their job.

    Please support making English the official language of the United States and urge your state’s legislators and Congressional members to pass legislation making it so.

    When English becomes our official language [NOT national], we can remedy this “loophole” pertaining to license exams and save lives.

    Please visit my Blog at http://www.proenglishusa.blogspot.com and http://www.twitter.com/proenglishusa to learn more.

    You may also visit http://www.proenglish.org to immediately get involved in this effort to preserve our nation’s language and the language that unites us all toward achieving prosperity.

    Thank you,

    Eddie Garcia

  2. Mike Bryant says:
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    Interesting requirement that I wasn’t aware of, the video is worth spending the rime to watch. Thanks for the very helpful information.

  3. Truckie D says:
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    Due to comment length, please see my blog post on Mexican cross-border trucking at: http://truckied.wordpress.com/2009/03/01/mexican-cross-border-trucking/

  4. Facebook User says:
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    Please participate in my discussion posted at the above FACEBOOK link. It relates to mandating that English be the sole language when taking the driver’s license examination.