A local non-profit group and two Hawaii residents are filing a federal class action lawsuit Friday against the Hawaii Department of Transportation.
The lawsuit alleges that the DOT is discriminating against Hawaii residents of various ethnic and national origins by failing to allow translation or interpretation of the written driver's exam necessary to obtain a license.
The DOT has released the following statement:
"DOT cannot comment on pending litigation. But, we can say that we are moving forward with translating the test into all of the requested languages."
Faith Action for Community Equity, or FACE, says it has been trying to convince the DOT to provide translations of the exam.
"A driver’s license is critical to the self-sufficiency of struggling families who need to get to work, school or medical appointments," said Kim Harmon of FACE. "We have filed this lawsuit as a last resort; it is beyond me why HDOT will not allow the translations when doing so just interferes with peoples' ability to make a living and contribute to their communities."
FACE and the residents are represented by the non-profit Hawai'i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice and the Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing law firm.
According to the lawsuit, over ten years ago, FACE successfully advocated to get translations in place for nine different languages. Their purpose was to provide access to a driver's license for non-native English speakers that understand driving laws, but do not understand unfamiliar words and phrases on the exam like "inadvertently " and "ride up."
FACE says it turned to the issue again after it learned that the DOT ordered the use of the translations ceased after just three new questions were added to the exam.
FACE requested that the DOT reinstitute use of the translations and provide new ones for the languages of Ilocano, Marshallese, and Chuukese. Hawaii previously offered the test in languages including Tagalog, Japanese, Mandarin, Korean, Vietnamese, Samoan and Tongan.
"HDOT has permitted translations in the past; there is nothing preventing them from allowing them now," said Gavin Thornton of Hawaii Appleseed. "The fact that HDOT has chosen to keep thousands of Hawaii residents from getting a license is troubling."
The lawsuit also suggests that because the translations are not available, some people have felt compelled to drive without a license because they have no other suitable means of getting to work and supporting their families. Some have been unable to obtain insurance without a license, and others have been cited for driving without a license, an offense that subjects them to fines or jail time.
"If you know how to drive, you should be able to get to work without risking going to jail," said Paul Alston of Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing. "The cost of providing translations and using interpreters is small compared to the benefits to working people in need. There is no excuse for failing to do it."
Those filing the class action lawsuit are scheduled to hold a press conference Friday at 2 p.m. at the State Capitol. KITV4 News will have a report tonight at 5, 6 and 10.