MVD isn't printing driver's manuals in Spanish
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 8, 2004
Daniel González

Lawmakers worry about road safety

The state Motor Vehicle Division has quietly stopped printing the Arizona driver's license manual in Spanish at a time when the state's Latino population is booming. That has angered some state lawmakers who say the decision could affect public safety.

The decision to stop printing the manual in Spanish was made three years ago to save money in response to budget cuts, but MVD officials never notified the public or lawmakers.

"Spanish is the state's second language and the primary language of many
households in Arizona," said state Rep. Ted Downing, D-Tucson, a member of the Latino caucus. "People need to clearly understand the rules of the road, and we should help them do that."

With the state's Latino population surging, the MVD printed 50,000 copies of the manual in Spanish for the first time in October 2000, and then 50,000 more in January 2001, at a total cost of $52,000, spokeswoman Cydney DeModica said.

Another 50,000 copies were printed in April 2001, at a cost of about $20,000, she said.

But in fall 2001, MVD officials decided to forgo the Spanish printing to save money after being hit with a $5 million budget cut.

The decision, however, was never meant to be permanent, DeModica said.

"It was viewed as a temporary (decision), but the funding that was cut has not been restored," she said.

However, several changes in driving laws have taken place since the last time the manual was printed in Spanish, most notably a decrease in the legal limit for driving drunk, from .10 to .08 blood alcohol level.

Downing said the MVD should have informed state lawmakers before deciding to stop printing the manual in Spanish.

"To me, it's a major policy decision affecting public safety," Downing said. "That decision is putting everyone at risk, Spanish speakers and English speakers."

While the manual is no longer printed in Spanish, the test is still being offered in four languages besides English: Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese.

Meanwhile, the latest version of the driver's license manual will be printed only in English and will be ready by the end of this month, DeModica said. It will include several changes, including two pages devoted to roundabout intersections, which are designed to provide for a continuous flow of traffic and are gaining popularity in Arizona, DeModica said.

Media inquiries prompted MVD officials to begin planning to translate the latest version of the manual into Spanish and offering it on the Internet "in the next few months," DeModica said.

Typically, 600,000 copies of the manual are printed in English each year, at a cost of $110,000, DeModica said.

Democratic state Rep. Steve Gallardo, whose west Phoenix district has a majority Latino population, said saving money was not a good reason to stop printing the manual in Spanish because Hispanics make up more than 25 percent of the state's population, and many of them are more comfortable speaking Spanish.

"How can they even take the test if they can't study for it?" Gallardo said.

Earlier this week, Latinos interviewed at the MVD office on 51st Avenue in Maryvale, a predominantly Latino section of west Phoenix, gave mixed reactions to MVD's decision to stop printing the manual in Spanish. Some said the decision would prevent drivers more comfortable speaking Spanish from passing the driver's license test.

"It's going to affect a lot of Hispanic people. If you don't understand something clearly, you are not going to be able to answer the questions correctly," said Isaias Paredes, 42, a Mexican-born apartment manager who was renewing his registration.

Other Latinos, however, felt strongly that the driver's license manual should be printed only in English.

"It will force more people to learn English," said Mark Barajas, 34, a U.S.-born Latino who speaks English and Spanish. "And besides, translating (the manual) into Spanish costs money."