Manuel Castillo expected to drive his truck filled with onions through Alabama back home to California without incident. Unfortunately, he was stopped by a trooper and given a $500 ticket for something he didn’t think he was doing: speaking English poorly.
Castillo was aware of a federal law that requires him to be able to converse in English with an officer but he thought his language skills were good enough to avoid a ticket.
Still, Castillo said he plans to pay the maximum fine of $500 rather than return to Alabama to fight the ticket.
“It just doesn’t seem fair to be ticketed if I wasn’t doing anything dangerous on the road,” he said.
Federal law requires that anyone with a commercial driver’s license speak English well enough to talk with police. Authorities last year issued 25,230 tickets nationwide for violations. Now the federal government is trying to tighten the English requirement, saying the change is needed for safety reasons.
Most states let truckers and bus drivers take at least part of their license tests in languages other than English. But the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has proposed rules requiring anyone applying for a commercial driver’s license to speak English during their road test and vehicle inspection. The agency wants to change its rules to eliminate the use of interpreters, and congressional approval isn’t required.
I spoke on this issue on CNN Headline News and I couldn’t wait for the appearance to passionately criticize this law. While I understand its purpose, I argued that it’s un-American and unconstitutional. I don’t feel comfortable permitting some trooper in Alabama to judge whether a person of Hispanic dissent is able to communicate sufficiently. There have been numerous times in my life where I couldn’t understand what someone from the deep South was saying due to their thick accent. Additionally, I don’t believe that any person is in the best frame of mind after being pulled over. I can only imagine how this trucker must have been consumed with fear, especially because he was stopped for no reason.