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English requirement is not about race

The requirement that all truckers operating in the United States have a basic command on the English language doesn’t sound like something controversial. But it has been the subject of a lot of heated debate.

The principle is simple: All truckers need to be able to communicate sufficiently with all other truckers, as well as law enforcement officials. All truckers need to be able to read traffic signs. It is a matter of safety.

Yet last year, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, CVSA, pulled a requirement to put people who lack English proficiency out of service.

Personally, I think it’s very easy for people, especially those outside trucking, to quickly conclude that objections to that decision are matters of prejudice or racism.

I reject that, wholeheartedly. Here’s why.

The requirement is a safety regulation. It is the same with airline pilots to this day. They are all required to speak English. That’s true outside the United States as well. To be able to effectively communicate, all pilots and the air traffic personnel they deal with must be able to communicate in a common language worldwide. The inability to do so could jeopardize lives.

Yet even though English is required in aviation, I have not heard the charge of racism there. It’s accepted that this is a safety regulation.

Is trucking different? I think not.

Here’s what the regulation on the federal books says:

“A person shall not drive a commercial motor vehicle unless he or she … can 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.”

I’ve said this before, but let me say it again.

I don’t care what language you speak in your home, or to your priest or minister, or to your barber, or sister or neighbor. I have no interest in what you speak to other people at the grocery store.

But when you are driving a commercial motor vehicle, an 80,000-pound vehicle, if someone calls on the CB and says, “Your truck is on fire,” I want you to understand that.

If you see a sign that says, “Children at play ahead,” or “bridge out,” I want you to be able to read it, to understand what it says and why it’s important, and to react to it in time to make a difference.

If an inspector is under your truck and says, “Don’t move the rig or you’ll crush my head,” I want you to know what that person is saying.

That’s not about your background, your nationality, your family’s origin, your race or anything other than safety – your safety, and the safety of the people around you.

Truckers are driving the roads across the country, mixed entirely together with the rest of us. For their safety, as well as the safety of the motoring public, they have to be able to communicate.

That FMCSA regulation is still on the books.

However, state agencies that enforce the regulations on the road have decided, through CVSA, to stop enforcing that regulation.

It’s as if CVSA has decided, despite the fact that it’s a private organization, despite the fact that it’s simply a cooperative of law enforcement and trucking industry officials, that they can make law.

CVSA asked the FMCSA to take this reg off the books, and the agency refused. CVSA should not have the ability to negate the powers of the federal agency charged with truck enforcement.

Yet here we are.


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