Adjusting to life in the United States is a huge challenge for new Americans. There are many barriers to overcome that play a huge role in their ability to integrate successfully into society, and to ultimately become self-sufficient. On that road to self-sufficiency, the ability to get a driver’s license is absolutely critical for new Americans. “It gives them access to employment. Economic self-sufficiency is a goal and a requirement,” Says Amila Merdzanovic, director of USCRI Vermont “As we all know, [Vermont] doesn’t have a great transportation system.” The ability to drive oneself rather than have to rely on public transportation can open up countless employment opportunities that, beforehand, were simply unavailable.
However, the Department of Motor Vehicles in Vermont isn’t making that easy. Right now, the VT DMV only provides its 77-page driver’s license manual in English and Spanish. The test itself is available in a few more languages: English, Spanish, Serbo-Croatian, French, and Somali. Based on the resettled refugees and VT immigrant population, Merdzanovic could immediately think of at least five languages that would qualify to be added.
Seeing the problem, USCRI set out to find a solution, looking at other state DMV offerings, and presenting a solution to local legislators. USCRI Vermont found that Rhode Island and California offer the written test in 30 languages. Idaho, another state with a large amount of refugee resettlement, offers its driving test in 14 languages. Not only are more languages offered, but Idaho also allows a foreign language interpreter to ride along on the road skills test, something not currently permitted in Vermont. Translating the manual that test-takers can study before the written portion of the driver test would be a small first step, but hugely helpful.
USCRI Vermont’s Maree Oddoux presented these finding and a policy recommendation at a forum hosted by State Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe. As a result of USCRI’s advocacy, the Vermont Senate Transportation Committee introduced a bill calling for changes to DMV rules related to availability of translated materials and use of trained interpreters at both written and road tests. While it is still on its way through government, should the bill be passed this could mean great things for new Americans. Until then, USCRI will continue its steadfast advocacy.
Learn more about the challenges here.
A draft of the bill can be found here.