Immigrants Learn the Language of Area Driving

Emily Wax, CBS Baltimore, October 3, 2012


Every year, legions of immigrants from all over the world must learn to navigate Washington’s crazy quilt of traffic circles, one-way streets, cul-de-sacs, Beltway merges and, most recently, bike lanes. Driving instructors in the Washington region jokingly call it “the other DWI”—Driving While Immigrant.


While there are plenty of inept drivers who are American-born, driving in the U.S. poses specific challenges for non-English speakers—not least of which is bearing the brunt of foreign-driver stereotypes. Adults relearning to drive in a country with stricter traffic laws than their own must first unlearn their old habits. Driving backward down a one-way street, for instance, is fairly common elsewhere in the world, says Jose Ucles, spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a Washington-based government agency.

As one of the most international regions in the country, the Washington metro area is home to drivers from countries where there is little or no driver education, where the rule of law is weak, the roads are narrow and everyone knows you can pay a “fine” (a.k.a. a bribe) if you’re caught driving without a license or proper documentation.

Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, India, Kenya and Nigeria consistently have the world’s highest rates of traffic fatalities. About 90 percent of traffic injuries occur in developing countries, according to a 2009 report issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), the most recent data available.

“I know firsthand how people drive in our countries and it’s, wow, just chaotic. In Spanish, we say on the roads it’s ‘The law of the strongest’, where the biggest car will cut everyone else off,” said Ucles, who’s originally from Honduras and has worked on dozens of television and Internet campaigns with local Spanish-language news stations.


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  • IstvanIN

    Honduran Jose Ucles, spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

    Doing the job an American won’t?

    • White people who support current levels of immigration and affirmative action are fools.

  • Driver stereotypes can save your life.  Don’t ignore them.

  • FourFooted_Messiah

    This is why I do not like driving any more, and have no interest in getting a car and getting back on the road.  Being on the road a lot has caused me a lot of mental anxiety that I still have to get over.

    If we MUST get a (expletive) vehicle, then it will be a pick-up truck, as this is the land of pick-ups, and yes, the rule about the biggest vehicle ruling the road seems to apply in Alberta, too. There is no WAY I will be caught in a tin-can Cavalier or something like that.

  • Jay11

    There are tons of asian drivers where I’m at.  Every stereotype about asian drivers is TRUE.  I have seen things that would just make you stare in wonder.  

    • IstvanIN

       Try NJ: Indians, Chinese, Mexicans, assorted other Latinos.  They have no clue.  Drive slow in the left lane, double park, no use of signals, stop for no apparent reason, it is like a game of dodgem.

      • What I notice a lot and I do not know what race does this. Is people who speed up and then hit their brakes. They even do this when there are no cars in front of them.

        • IstvanIN

           I hate when I get stuck behind someone like that.  It is almost like they can not control the gas pedal.  Speed up, hit brake, speed up, hit brake.  I guess going 50, then 60, then 50 and then 60 averages out to 55!

    • That is so true.  A lot of Asians do not look when they are backing up. And I am Asian and I am saying this!

      • The__Bobster

        Used car salesmen say they can always tell the cars that were driven by Asians because the corners are dented from parking accidents.

    • Driving just like they learned in downtown JungKing, Hanoi, Manila and Hydrabad.

  • “About 90 percent of traffic injuries occur in developing countries”

    I love this newspeak term “developing countries.”  The attempt to mitigate the horrific nightmare that is the third world by relabeling them “developing countries” is beyond absurd.  They are just a little bit behind us and they are just like us you see, they just need time to develop.  Right,these “developing” countries are on their way to being first world paradises just like the European countries and America USED to be.    How long these countries will take to develop and what type of development will result is anyone’s guess, but I have a few ideas.  No question is ever asked as to WHY they are still developing and are currently undeveloped. 

    • IKantunderstand

      What the term means, is once we get enough of these people from “developing countries” into  “developed countries” we can then turn “developed countries” into  “undeveloping countries” and abacadabra we have the arithmetical average of development all over the world! Think of it as development distribution.

    • IstvanIN

       The same countries have been called “developing” since I went to grammar school in the 1960s.  What the heck are they developing into?

  •  Oh yeah, I make it a habit of reporting drunk mexicans on the roads of So CAL.  I know I’ve taken down at least 6 or 7 so far.

    • If you’re calling 911 about drunk-driving Mexicans in So Cal, I’d hate to see your cell phone bill.

  • and they also have no license as well.

  • Since it’s “mean-spirited” or racist to expect them to learn English I often wondered what they’d do if they saw a sign that said “Bridge out” while driving 75-MPH.

    • IstvanIN

       Turbans can also be used as a flotation devise.

  • APaige

    I can help.
    1. Drive car to dock.
    2. Get on boat.
    3. Leave (believe it or not white people can survive (thrive) without you.)

    • IstvanIN

       Survive without dieversity?  Are you mad?

  • MikeofAges

    Territorial (ZIP code) rating is a nightmare and should be illegal. About 20 years ago, thanks to a voter passed proposition, California eliminated territorial rating and went to a two rate system — metropolitan and rural. Not much seemed to change except that inner city residents no longer had to pay exorbitant rates. In 1970 as a male driver under 25 living in Chicago, I payed more per month for auto insurance than I do today living in a suburban area in Washington state. That’s more in actual dollars, not relative dollars. $30/month in 1970 v. $26/month today. If you want to bleed people who live in the inner city just to save yourself a couple of bucks a month on your auto policy, can’t say I think much of you.

    • The__Bobster

      My old neighborhood was infested by hit-and-run canecutters without insurance. Insurance for a young driver ran about $80 a month back in 1970.

  • JackKrak

    If it’s ok to suggest that people from the more camel-intensive parts of the world may have a negative impact on road safety, then when can we talk about what effect they have on other, arguably more significant aspects of life in a white country?

  • Celebrate Diversity!