Why the ACLU Is Suing the Indiana BMV

By: Bridget Clerkin December 7, 2018
Citing a breach of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the ACLU is suing Indiana’s BMV over its driver manual, which is only offered in English.
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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wants the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) to start practicing what they preach—literally.

The nonprofit, which often defends the expansion and preservation of equal rights in court, is suing the Indiana state institution for not doing enough for non-English speakers, at least when it comes to their driving tests.

While the BMV’s written driving examination itself is polyglot-friendly with 14 different languages available, the state’s official driving manual is available only in one: English.

That could be an issue for anyone unfamiliar with the dialect, as the written examination is based exclusively off of information found in the 95-page manual, the ACLU argues.

In its suit, filed on November 9 in the District Court of the Southern District of Indiana, the organization alleges that the BMV is currently in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects against discrimination on the basis of a person’s nation of origin.

The law-centric organization is suing on behalf of South Bend-based non-profit Neighbor to Neighbor, which focuses on helping refugees and other recent immigrants assimilate into society. ACLU representatives have gone on to argue that offering an oral explanation of the manual is “no substitute” for the opportunity to read, re-read, and study the material on a personal timeframe.

For its part, the BMV has declined to comment on the suit, but a representative of the state agency has pointed to recent work on its behalf to expand options for non-English speakers, including a version of the driver’s manual offered in Spanish, which is due to be released in the first quarter of 2019.

The push is along the line of measures taken in several other states to expand the pool of eligible legal drivers. A recent California law offering licenses for undocumented immigrants brought more than 605,000 new lawful drivers to the roads there, and the New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles was considering rolling out a similar program.

Proponents of such measures argue that it not only makes the road safer, but could be an economic boon, giving more people the opportunity to hit the road in order to contribute to the community.

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