Mind your language...

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HUNDREDS of learner drivers in Wigan had to have an interpreter sit in on their driving test because they didn’t have a strong enough command of English.

In the past two years, 257 people taking a car theory test at Wigan’s test centre required it to have a voiceover in another language. And 92 people needed an interpreter to accompany them on their practical driving test during the same period.

The figures, obtained following a Freedom of Information request to the Driving Standards Agency, came a month after the Government announced it was looking into ways to ban foreign language driving tests.

In Wigan, other than English, Kurdish (69 people) was the most popular language for a voiceover at a theory test sitting. This was closely followed by Polish (56) and Farsi (51). Other languages used included Turkish (seven), Urdu (eight) and Arabic (36).

The DVLA provides voiceover in 19 languages as well as English and Welsh. If there is no voiceover for the language you need, you can ask to have a translator-assisted theory test.

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

Speaking in November 2011, transport minister Mike Penning said the government was studying how to change the rules to ban “politically correct” foreign language tests. Ministers have decided to act amid fears that foreign drivers may have higher accident rates on British roads. However their attempts may fall foul of anti-discrimination laws.

Mr Penning said: “I find it incredible that Labour thought it was a good idea to let people without a basic grasp of English loose on our roads. Road safety should be our priority, not political correctness.”

Transport officials believe that other European countries do not routinely allow people to sit driving tests in foreign languages.

The Driving Standards Agency previously published the multiple choice questions and answers that people would face in the tests. However, starting this month, learner drivers will have to answer unpublished questions.

Andrew Howard, head of road safety at the AA, said he did not feel drivers who didn’t speak English would pose a road safety threat. He said: “Road signs are designed to be symbolic and so reading ability isn’t a factor.”