Suffolk: More than 600 learner drivers needed interpreters to help them take driving test

Learner drivers

Learner drivers - Credit: PA

MORE than 600 drivers needed an interpreter to sit in on their driving test in Suffolk in the past three because they did not have a strong enough command of English, shocking figures have revealed.

Between 2009/10 to 2011/12, a total of 1,703 Suffolk learners requested to sit a theory test exam in a different language.

The figures, which were obtained following a Freedom of Information request to the Driving Standards Agency, comes after a Government consultation on proposals to ban foreign drivers from using interpreters.

Road safety minister Stephen Hammond said: “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.

“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.”

Of the 634 practical driving tests sat in Suffolk in which an interpreter was required, 345 were sat in Ipswich, 216 in Bury St Edmunds and 73 in Lowestoft.

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The most frequently requested foreign languages for theory tests were Polish, Bengali and Turkish, although requests were also made for tests in the Persian dialect of Dari, Kurdish and Tamil and the Indian languages Gujarati, Urdu and Hindi.

Although the cost of the translators for a practical test is met by the learner, the cost of translating theory tests into different languages for a voiceover is met by the taxpayer.

Rich Andrew, of road safety charity Brake, said “It is not necessarily an issue if a driver isn’t fluent enough in English to take an exam in that language, however it is important that they can demonstrate they understand signage and road rules by passing their test.

“It is only a very small minority of signs which have written words other than place names on them, and you don’t need to be fluent in English to learn a few simple words in order to recognise these signs.

“We believe it is important to offer the test out in other languages in order to ensure drivers who are not proficient in English are not tempted to drive in the UK without first preparing for and passing their test.”

An AA spokesman said: “We certainly would not want being foreign to be a barrier to driving in the UK – the main thing is that all drivers understand the rules of the road and are able to drive safely.

“In order to do this, drivers must be able to understand and follow road signs and have a good knowledge of the Highway Code.”