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DOT to Sideline Drivers for Lack of English Proficiency

    Client Alerts
  • November 02, 2007

According to an enforcement memorandum released last month, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), part of the Department of Transportation, intends to begin stricter enforcement measures against commercial motor vehicle drivers who cannot converse in English with state and federal DOT enforcement officers.  While the conversational English requirement has been in effect since 1970, it has been little enforced, and when used, only resulted in a citation to the driver in question.  Under the new enforcement memorandum, FMCSA indicated its intention to remove from service drivers who cannot communicate basic information with an enforcement officer regarding their loads and their duty status.


Carriers employing drivers without good English proficiency run the risk of disruption of transportation of goods in the event of a language-based out-of-service order.  In some states, drivers without the requisite degree of English proficiency cannot obtain a commercial drivers license.  Others, however, have varying degrees of strictness when it comes to this requirement.  The discretion given to the enforcement officer in determining English proficiency raises serious questions regarding consistent application of these requirements.


Employers should not panic and terminate drivers with thick accents or those who are not native English speakers.  Such reaction could result in claims of discrimination based upon national origin.  However, motor carriers are within their rights to make certain that all of their drivers can converse in English with regard to origin and destination points, duty status and driving time, and vehicle components and systems.