Immigrants to be banned from taking driving tests in foreign languages in bid to stop cheating and boost road safety
- Theory and practical driving tests can currently be taken in 21 languages
- 145,000 tests taken annually in languages other than English and Welsh
- Road safety minister Stephen Hammond said interpreters ‘present the risk of fraud’
By Ray Massey
PUBLISHED:01:58 GMT, 6 February 2013| UPDATED:07:45 GMT, 6 February 2013
Immigrants are to be banned from taking driving tests in 19 foreign languages in a bid to stop cheating and boost road safety, it was announced Tuesday.
As well as beating fraud and keeping unsafe drivers off UK roads, the move to end foreign translations and translators will increase ‘social cohesion and integration’ in Britain and cut costs, the Government said.
Those learning to drive can currently take their theory and practical driving tests in any of 21 languages.
Nearly 145,000 tests are taken every year in languages other than English and Welsh – from Albanian to Urdu – at a rate of around 2,700 a week.
Of these, 108,374 were for the theory test and 35,000 for the practical test. The evidence also suggests that many were re-takes.
Plans to outlaw the test being carried out in ‘non-national languages’ are set out in a major consultation by the Government’s Driving Standards Agency.
Official figures show that since 2009 some 861 people had their theory test passes revoked after being coached on what to do during their theory and practical tests by ‘back-seat’ translators.
Nine DSA-approved interpreters were also struck off for their part in such frauds.
Ministers are also concerned about handing licences to people who are unable to read road signs.
Currently people whose first language is not English or Welsh can request pre-recorded voice-overs for the computer-based car and motorcycle theory tests in 19 foreign languages.
The 19 Languages covered by interpreters are: Albanian, Arabic, Bengali, Cantonese, Dari, Farsi, Gujarati, Hindi, Kashmiri, Kurdish, Mirpuri, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Pushto, Spanish, Tamil, Turkish, Urdu.
Candidates can also use approved interpreters on theory tests, usually if a voice-over is not available in a candidate’s native language, or where a candidate speaks a dialect that would make a voice-over difficult to understand.
Interpreters can also be used in practical tests to translate the examiner’s instructions. Candidates have to pay for interpreters themselves, but the cost of developing and updating voice-overs for the theory test is met by the DSA. Ministers say the service, introduced by Labour, costs taxpayers £250,000 a year.
There are currently 122 approved interpreters for the theory test where the potential for fraud is seen as more acute. However, a DSA spokesman said: ’For the practical test, candidates can bring anyone to interpret for them’.
Of 1.68 million theory tests carried out in 2011-12, some 106,112 used foreign language voice-overs and 2,262 involved an interpreter being present, making a total of 108,374.
When individual theory candidates are counted, some 57,361 requested voiceovers and 1,690 requested interpreters in 2011/12, suggesting many re-sat their tests at least once.
Of the 1.57 million practical driving tests conducted in 2011-12, ‘around 35,000 were conducted with an interpreter present,’ says the new report. When individual practical test candidates are counted, some 19,555 requested interpreters, again suggesting that many took their test more than once.
Announcing the plans to remove voice-overs on the theory test and scrapping the use of interpreters on all tests, road safety minister Stephen Hammond said allowing interpreters on tests for those whose first language is not English ‘presents the risk of fraud’.
Launching the eight-week public consultation, Mr Hammond said the Government’s ‘preferred choice’ was to remove all voice-overs and translation services in non-national languages.
He added that interpreters could, for example, ‘indicate the correct answers to theory test questions’.
Mr Hammond said: ‘There is a potential road safety risk of drivers not understanding important traffic updates or emergency information, but allowing interpreters on tests also presents the risk of fraud, for example if they are indicating the correct answers to theory test questions.’
It would reduce fraud by addressing ‘the problem of an interpreter attending for test with a learner driver and communicating advice beyond a strict translation of the theory test questions or the instructions given by the examiner.’
Lives could also be saved by improving road safety, he stressed, saying: ‘There is concern about the ability of non-English or Welsh speakers to understand road signs and other advice to drivers.’
He said the move would also help to ‘enhance social cohesion and to encourage integration in society by learning the national language’.
Mr Hammond noted: ‘We want to ensure that all drivers have the right skills to use our roads safely and responsibly. We also want to keep test fees to a minimum for candidates, and I am not convinced that providing translations is the most effective use of resources’
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