Government ministers have announced plans to phase out the use of foreign language audio translations and interpreters sitting in on driving tests. The move comes amid fears that those who have passed their test with the help of an interpreter or by listening to a voiceover asking them theory questions in their native language are unsafe to be behind the wheel because they are unable to read the UK’s road signs. In addition, concerns have been raised that having an interpreter sit in on a theory test allows candidates to cheat.
Under current rules, a learner driver can request to listen to a voiceover of the theory test in one of 19 different languages. This audio translation lets them listen to each question in their native language. They are also able to request that an interpreter sit in with them during their practical road test.
Patrick McLoughlin, the transport secretary, said the move was part of the Department of Transport’s efforts to ensure all drivers have the skills necessary to drive safely and responsibly on the roads. To do this, new rules will stipulate that tests are conducted in either English or Welsh. “This will help to ensure that all new drivers will be able to understand traffic updates or emergency information. It will also help us to reduce the risk of fraud by stopping interpreters indicating the correct answers to theory test questions,” he explained.
In August, interpreter Allyson Ng from Bristol was sentenced to one year in prison after being found guilty of fraud. She charged clients £110 to sit in on theory tests and translate them into Mandarin, during which she would direct them whether to answer yes or no. Following her conviction, the Driving Standards Agency revealed it would revoke driving licences from 94 people who completed the test using the interpreter’s services.
The government has been considering whether or not to make written and practical driving tests in the UK available in English or Welsh-only for several months and reveals more than 70 per cent of the public back the move. Aside from removing the possibility of fraud, it is thought that by banning foreign language tests, all candidates will be able to prove they can read and react correctly to English and Welsh signs, along with the Highway Code.
Thousands of candidates requested the use of audio translations during their theory test in 2012, and nearly 2,000 asked for an interpreter to sit with them on the test. Applications for interpreters rose to nearly 20,000 from people wishing to have one accompany them on their practical test.
All road signs in the UK are in English, while in Wales they must be available in both English and Welsh. This has led to mistakes in the past, when full attention has not been given to the translation.
In May 2011, a sign in the car park of a Swansea-based Tesco directed English speakers to one exit and Welsh speakers to another. A few years earlier, in August 2006, a sign aimed at cyclists travelling between Penarth and Cardiff was mistranslated, so that the English read ‘cyclists dismount’ and the Welsh read ‘llid y bledren dymchwelyd’ – or ‘bladder inflammation upset’.
The case that most famously highlights the importance of having all translations proofread and quality assured was reported in October 2008, when the Welsh section of a road sign was found to translate to: “I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated.” The translator Swansea council had sent its request to had closed at the time but, unable to read the Welsh out-of-office auto email it received back, the authority assumed it was the completed translation and went ahead with printing it. The sign has since been removed.