New Spanish driver's tests aim to prevent unlawful driving

Monday, February 9th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

JENKS, Okla. (AP) _ The head of Oklahoma's busiest driving test center flunked the written exam Monday, only to show it is now available in a language he doesn't speak.

For the first time in nearly a decade, the state is offering the written driver's exam in Spanish.

The Jenks center is among the first of 18 sites statewide to receive the computerized tests. Most others are expected to be in place by mid-March.

Jenks supervisor Ken Miller has long watched able Spanish-speaking drivers leave in frustration after failing the English-only written exam.

``We've had some that would come back 10 or 12 times and take it,'' said Miller, whose own ``incorrecto'' after ``incorrecto'' on the Spanish exam Monday testified to the difficulty they faced.

The state stopped offering tests in Spanish about nine years ago, sending many in Oklahoma's burgeoning Hispanic communities to other states for licenses. Others drive without one.

``It's our hope that those individuals who have been operating without a license will have the opportunity to secure a license and, in turn, insurance,'' said Karen Gentry, state director of driver testing. ``And make our roadways a safer place.''

Legislators ordered the state Department of Public Safety to begin offering the Spanish tests by Nov. 1, 2002, but provided no funding.

The agency finally found surplus computers and is using existing personnel to provide the tests at minimal cost, Gentry said. Startup, however, was pushed back from last fall because agency staff had to complete another project.

Along with Jenks, test sites in Enid, Lawton, Midwest City, north Tulsa and southwest Oklahoma City already have received their test equipment.

The Spanish exams also will be offered in Woodward, Guymon, Muskogee, Claremore, Stillwater, Ada, McAlester, Edmond, Norman, Ardmore, Altus and Durant.

Only about a dozen people have taken the test in Jenks so far. Some in the Hispanic community in nearby Tulsa said word is just now beginning to spread.

``It's great news for the Spanish-speaking community,'' said Sara Martinez, who coordinates the Hispanic Resource Center for the Tulsa City-County Library. ``And it makes our roads a lot safer and helps our insurance rates go down for everybody.''

The driver's test alone won't address all the struggles faced by Spanish-speaking drivers, she said.

Some Hispanic applicants also may have difficulty reading and writing Spanish, she said.

One potential help is that the new test can be given orally and includes photos or short videos with each question.

The state driver's manual also is not yet available in Spanish, meaning Spanish speakers have little way to study for the test. The state plans to offer at translation in the next three to four months.

``I think anything that makes it easier,'' Martinez said, ``is helpful to the community as a whole.''