The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit Friday against the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles on behalf of a South Bend non-profit organization, Neighbor to Neighbor, Inc. The lawsuit claimed that the BMV’s failure to provide the Indiana Driver’s Manual in any language other than English constitutes discrimination on the basis of a person’s national origin. As part of the settlement, the BMV agreed to translate the Driver’s Manual into any language in which it offers the knowledge examination “if, during three consecutive years, an average of 500 or more different persons took the ‘knowledge examination’ in that language.” Under the latest three-year statistics, Arabic, Burmese, Chin, and Mandarin, in addition to English and Spanish, meet this threshold for translation.
For an individual to obtain a new driver’s license in Indiana, they must first take a written “knowledge examination” and then pass a “driving skills exam.” The knowledge examination itself is offered in 14 different languages, while the Indiana Driver’s Manual on which the examination is based was offered exclusively in English (at the time of filing).
Neighbor to Neighbor, Inc., a non-profit organization in South Bend, is dedicated to providing assistance to international refugees and other recent immigrants in the area. The organization works to fill the gaps left by the failure of the BMV, by helping individuals with limited English learn the Driver’s Manual material. Obtaining a driver’s license is of particular importance to the international refugees and other recent immigrants assisted by Neighbor to Neighbor because the ability to drive is invaluable in their efforts to secure sustainable employment, to obtain and maintain housing and community relationships, and to accomplish numerous other tasks of contemporary life such as visiting the library or going grocery shopping. Neighbor to Neighbor expends significant amounts of its institutional resources in order to assist persons who understand limited English in obtaining their Indiana driver’s license.
There is no legitimate reason for the BMV to offer its ‘knowledge examination’ in fourteen different languages, but to only offer the Driver’s Manual on which that examination is based in English. Many test-takers must attempt to somehow learn the information tested on the exam in English, and may be required to take the “knowledge examination” six or eight times before passing if they are able to pass at all. The lawsuit alleges that the failure to offer the Driver’s Manual in any language other than English constitutes national-origin discrimination in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.