Refugees in Utah who are taking their first driving exam have always been allowed to use an interpreter for the written portion. Legislation passed during the 2018 legislative session will now allow them to also use an interpreter when renewing their license for the first time.
In the past, refugees only received driving privileges for four years after passing the test. Changes in the law extend this to five years, the standard length of time for Utah licenses.
Representative Carol Spackman Moss said the requirements were there to encourage refugees to learn English faster. Instead, it resulted in people needing to take the test over and over again, in some cases up to 30 times.
“Their goal is to be economically independent,” Moss said. “They don’t want to be on government assistance forever and we don’t want them to be. And so instead of creating an incentive, that law created a barrier.”
Moss became aware of this problem when a constituent told her about the parents of a refugee family who were struggling to renew their driver's licenses. This lead to the passage of the new requirements.
Asha Parekah is director of Utah’s office of refugee services.
“For especially older refugees, people who are already working and have children,” Parekah said, “they want to learn the English that’s required to pass a driver’s license exam, but it requires some specific work on the language used in the exam and they just often don’t have the time to do that in that short amount of time.”
Moss said giving refugees additional time is important because words on the driving test are often new for them. They are words not normally used in everyday language.
“We usually say ‘crash’ or ‘accident,’” Moss said. “The test says ‘collision.’ See, that’s not as familiar.”