Hot Topics
Non-English speaking drivers can be put OOS in the U.S.

By Mark H. Reddig
Associate Editor

An addition to the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance Out-of-Service Criteria now allows enforcement officers to place truckers out of service if they are unable to “communicate sufficiently” in the country in which they are operating.

The new out-of-service provision, which has been debated for some time, became effective April 1. It affects commercial drivers operating in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The new addition to the criteria says:

“In recognition of the three countries’ language differences, it is the responsibility of the driver and the motor carrier to be able to communicate in the country in which the driver/carrier is operating so that safety is not compromised. Driver is unable to communicate sufficiently to understand and respond to official inquiries and directions. … Place driver out of service.”

Previously, nothing in CVSA’s out-of-service criteria allowed enforcement officers to place a driver who could not speak or understand English while in the United States out of service, said Rick Craig, OOIDA’s director of regulatory affairs. However, Part 391.11 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations requires that drivers be able to read and speak English.

For some time, OOIDA has pushed to add violations of the English-speaking requirement to the out-of-service criteria, but political considerations prevented that.

“The NAFTA agreement, Mexico being a member of CVSA, French-speaking Quebec, the fear of legal action, were just some of the arguments in opposition to adopting the change,” Craig said.

“There has also been an ongoing concern that if the existing FMCSA rule were enforced, Mexico, or even Quebec, could retaliate against U.S. drivers unable to speak Spanish or French.”

However, because Canada is officially bilingual, Craig said the issue “primarily hinges on Mexico.”

The issue came up again at a recent meeting, and Craig said the new criteria received heavy support from law-enforcement officials involved in CVSA. Of particular concern to those members was the ability of officers to communicate during inspections. Craig said officers “don’t know what to do with the drivers. There’s nothing in the out-of-service criteria.”

“Many officers view it more as an inspector safety problem, because their inspectors must get under the equipment to check brakes, chassis, things like that,” he said. “They’re afraid that if the driver misunderstands the instructions, they may get an inspector run over.”

The criteria could affect the entry of Mexican drivers under NAFTA. Carriers cannot afford to have large numbers of drivers placed out of service, and the possibility that drivers with limited English skills could be placed out of service may lead carriers to take another look at hiring drivers from foreign countries.

Craig stressed that the rule is not targeted at one language or one group of drivers. Different parts of the United States experience concentrations of different nationalities of non-English-speaking drivers. For example, the Operation Safe Road investigation in Illinois focused on drivers who spoke Eastern European languages.

CVSA members include state, provincial and federal officials responsible for enforcing motor carrier safety laws in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Its membership includes all 50 states, the District of Columbia, all 13 Canadian provinces and territories, the country of Mexico, as well as several U.S. territories.

In addition to government officials, the group includes trucking associations, truck and bus companies, insurance companies, manufacturers, research organizations, commercial vehicle drivers and others.

For years, those groups have worked together to develop minimum standards for commercial vehicle inspections and uniform out-of-service criteria.

What effect the new criteria will have remains to be seen. The criteria, for example, do not specify what constitutes “communicating sufficiently.” If a driver and inspector can communicate through hand signals, that could qualify, or if the U.S. inspector can speak the driver’s language, that could also qualify.

Craig said OOIDA views this as one of the major flaws of the new language in the criteria that, if it were fixed, would solve the problem of non-English speaking drivers in the United States once and for all.

But Craig said it does finally give U.S. inspectors a tool to deal with non-English speaking drivers.