Legal Beat

Article excerpt

Many Hispanics who would like to take to Oklahoma's highways and byways often find a linguistic stop sign barring their way to a driver's license.

But Legal Aid of Western Oklahoma is changing that with publication of a free Spanishnguage study guide for those Hispanics who want to take the state driver's test.

Stan L. Foster, Legal Aid director, said Hispanics constitute the largest nonglish speaking group in Oklahoma. And, he says, the lack of a way to teach them the laws and regulations affecting driving was "a real serious problem for individuals and the public."

"Here we have people who need a driver's license to survive," Foster says. "If they don't have a license, one, it's because they don't know the laws and regulations and, two, they're going to drive anyway and put us all at risk."

Various groups had been trying for years to make the Oklahoma driver's study manuals available to those speaking Spanish. Legal Aid also had been working to have the driver's examinations given in Spanish and "about a decade ago we had litigation that we thought had settled the issue," Foster says.

He said a 1991 survey found that 34 states give driver's exams in Spanish. Although the Department of Public Safety began providing the written test in Spanish in November, a Spanisheaking applicant must bring an interpreter for the driving test.

"They claim they do not have the bilingual staff to make this work as it ideally should work," Foster says. "This at least gives them the mechanism for taking the test. Previously, the state wouldn't even allow that."

But there still are no stateovided study materials in Spanish.

"We haven't had the funding to do a driver's manual in Spanish," says Lee Lamirand, public information director for the department. "It is nice that Legal Aid has done this."

Lamirand said no figures were available on how many applicants had made use of the written test in Spanish.

Foster points out that the Legal Aid publication "is not the manual" put out by the Department of Public Safety. To translate the manual and print it with all its illustrations "would have been nice, but it was a more ambitious project than we could afford," Foster says.

Instead, he says, the 15-page study guide put out by Legal Aid is "intended to provide similar information as the manual, but to do it in question and answer form."

A grant from the Oklahoma City Community Foundation enabled Legal Aid to publish 2,000 of the guides. Teresa A. Rendon, Legal Aid farm worker attorney, translated the material for the study guide.

Foster said Oklahoma is visited yearly by large numbers of itinerant farm workers, many of them Hispanic, who either come to the state for the harvest or who pass through on Interstates 40 or 35 en route to other states. …