Over 60,000 people sat a driving test in the UK using an interpreter or foreign voiceovers in the last year. The tests are available in 19 different languages. Back in 2007, Labour’s transport minister Jim Fitzpatrick said that this system “…works well and we have no evidence to suggest that it is being abused.” But does it work well?
The system has an obvious weakness, and that is that examiners don’t always understand the language that it is being interpreted to, and therefore the interpreters could easily offer coaching or indicate the correct answer to the candidate. This has evidently been happening and over 1000 licences have been revoked since 2009. Since the fraud was discovered several people have been charged and have gone to jail for this, like Solomon Tweneboah and Allyson Ng.
The lack of actual knowledge by drivers fraudulently obtaining their licence puts other road users at risk because all our signs are offered in English and/or Welsh, so if a driver doesn’t understand a warning sign the consequences could be fatal. It also prevents road users from being able to communicate with traffic enforcement officers.
Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary, said: “We want to make sure that all drivers have the right skills to use our roads safely and responsibly and one way we can do this is by requiring all test candidates to take the test in English or Welsh, the national languages.
“This will help to ensure that all new drivers will be able to understand traffic updates or emergency information when they pass their test. It will also help us to reduce the risk of fraud by stopping interpreters from indicating the correct answers to theory test questions.”
The government currently supports the translations to the tune of around a quarter of a million pounds per year. The ban, which is set to come into force in April 7, 2014, the road safety minister, has strong support from the public. Over 70% of people that responded supported the withdrawal of foreign language voiceovers. The UK is one of only a handful of countries that allow people to sit their licence in a foreign language including, for example, New Zealand which allows candidates to take it in Arabic, Chinese, Gujarati, Hindi, Korean, Maori, Punjabi, Samoan and Tongan. Other European countries do not.
Of course, you can practice for the theory test for your car right here in English.
If you have dyslexia or other reading difficulties you will still be able to take the theory test with an English or Welsh voiceover, and if you are deaf of have hearing difficulties you can take the theory test in British sign language (BSL) and take a BSL interpreter with you on the practical test.
The public consultation outcome can be found here.