Posted On: February 7, 2009 by Ken Shigley

Truck drivers required to speak and read English, so how do some of these guys get CDL licenses??

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, at 49 CFR 391.11, requires that in order to get a Commercial Driver's License, an applicant must be able to "read and speak the English language sufficiently to converse with the general public, to understand highway traffic signs and signals in the English language, to respond to official inquiries, and to make entries on reports and records."

A news story from West Virginia tells about a Russian truck driver who wrecked and spilled a truckload of cocoa. He could not speak English, but somehow had obtained a Maryland CDL.

There have been occasional stories about people essentially buying CDL licenses in various states although they did not qualify. I won't guess what may have happened with this guy.

However, we have seen cases in which immigrant truck drivers who did not speak or read English obtained CDL licenses contrary to the federal rule. In one case a year or so ago, I took the deposition in Kansas City -- through an interpreter -- of a Croatian truck driver who was taught to drive a tractor trailer by "some Russian guy in North Carolina. He said his study of the CDL manual and rules was accomplished by having his 10-year-old daughter translate it for him.

By the time I took his deposition he had learned enough English to have a little conversation, though we had to work through an interpreter. Can you imagine how hard it is to get a Croatian interpreter at all. Forget about getting one who knows the nuances of court interpreting.

You just can't make this stuff up.

Ken Shigley is a trial attorney in Atlanta, Georgia who has been listed as a "Super Lawyer" (Atlanta Magazine), among the "Legal Elite" (Georgia Trend Magazine), and in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers (Martindale), and is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy,. He served as chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Litigation Institute, is on the National Advisory Board for the Association of Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America, and is a frequent speaker at continuing legal education programs for the Interstate Trucking Litigation Group of the American Association for Justice. Mr. Shigley has extensive experience representing parties in trucking and bus accidents, products liability, catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death, spinal cord injury, brain injury and burn injury cases. Currently he is Secretary of the 40,000 member State Bar of Georgia.