A recent influx of immigrants has prompted the Department of Licensing here to hire Spanish and Russian translators to administer the state’s licensing exam.
“Their English is limited, they’re limited in their own language, but most of these people know the laws, they’re safe drivers, but they need an opportunity to get their license,” said Manuel Dominguez, a license service representative with the Kent Department of Licensing.
Each week, Dominguez and others help dozens of immigrants from Russia and Central America bypass computer-generated or paper licensing exams by giving the exam orally.
“Mobility is a critical part of everyone’s independence,” said Derek Goudriaan, assistant administrator for the DOL in Olympia. “We want to avoid putting obstacles in people’s way because what we find is, if the obstacles are too great, they’ll drive without a license, then they’re driving without insurance.”
The state’s first foreign-language driving tests came in the 1970s when an influx of Southeast Asian immigrants arrived at the end of the Vietnam war.
The department now offers the knowledge portion of the test by computer or on paper in eight languages: English, Russian, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian and Korean.
But many immigrants, either illiterate or intimidated by computers, prefer to take the test orally. Oral exams are also available to illiterate English-speaking residents.
The state’s licensing guidelines are also sensitive to other portions of the population, including physically- or mentally-disabled residents.
Aside from knowing the law and how to operate a car, qualified drivers must be in good health and be able to see clearly with the unaided eye, or able to demonstrate an ability to compensate, Goudriaan said.
The most common compensatory measures include medication, corrective lenses, and specially designed cars for paraplegics.
In some cases, the DOL may issue a restricted-use license, limiting a driver to a particular route, or to a certain distance from home.
In 1995, however, 42 percent of impaired applicants were disqualified, most with visual disabilities, Goudriaan said.
“Everybody is different. I’ve seen people who don’t now where they are, but their motor skills are fine,” Goudriaan said, referring to a driver with Alzheimer’s disease.
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