New Zealand is one of the few countries that still allows its citizens and residents to take a driving test in a language other than the national languages (in our case, English and Maori). In fact, you can take your theory test in Arabic, Chinese, Gujarati, Hindi, Korean, Maori, Punjabi, Samoan and Tongan.
The UK’s Highway Code theory test and practical test is currently available in 19 languages, but that will all change from April 7, 2014. It transpires that the obvious has happened: people have been using fraudulent interpreters to help them pass the test. The interpreters would indicate the correct answers in the candidates’ native tongue which, of course, would not be understood by the instructor. Even though this was suggested as a weakness back in 2007 then transport minister, Labour’s Jim Fitzpatrick, said he was happy that the system worked well and there was no evidence of it being abused.
It came to light when officials became suspicious that a particular translator, Allyson Ng, was being requested much more frequently than other translators of the same language. She has since been sent to jail, along with several others including Solomon Tweneboah who was taking tests on behalf of others. Over 1000 licences have been revoked since 2009 as the candidates are judged to have cheated.
The Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, said: “We want to make sure that all drivers have the right skills to use our roads safely and responsibly and one way we can do this is by requiring all test candidates to take the test in English or Welsh, the national languages.
“This will help to ensure that all new drivers will be able to understand traffic updates or emergency information when they pass their test. It will also help us to reduce the risk of fraud by stopping interpreters from indicating the correct answers to theory test questions.”
Should New Zealand adopt the same policy? Of course it should. Our road signs are primarily in English with some in Maori. We don’t have road signs in Chinese, Hindi or any other languages. If we have drivers that cannot understand warning signs, or cannot communicate with traffic police, it can create a potentially fatal situation.
In a government consultation in the UK 70% of respondents favoured withdrawing the service. Perhaps NZTA should also consult with the public as there may be money that can be saved, too. In the UK it will save 250,000 pounds per year.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below.