Drivers License Discrimination

Update, June 2015: Hawaii Appleseed has settled this lawsuit to increase language access for driver's exams. As part of the settlement, the Department of Transportation has committed to keep them in place for a minimum of five years—an important victory for thousands of people striving to improve life for themselves and their families.

Hawaii Appleseed, along with pro bono partners Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing, filed a federal court class action lawsuit on Sept. 6, 2013 against the Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT). Plaintiffs Faith Action for Community Equity (FACE)—a faith-based grassroots community advocacy non-profit—and two Hawaii residents whose names are being concealed to prevent potential retaliation, allege that HDOT 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 driver’s license.

Since the beginning of 2013 FACE has been trying to convince HDOT to provide translations of the exam. FACE and Hawaii residents affected by the issue have met with HDOT officials, submitted petitions, released a report on the issue, and even offered to arrange for the translations to be done at no cost. Nevertheless, HDOT has failed to provide translated versions of the driver’s exam.

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.” However, approximately two to three years ago, HDOT ordered the use of the translations cease after just three new questions were added to the exam. The lawsuit requests that HDOT reinstitute use of the old translations and provide new ones for the languages of Ilocano, Marshallese, and Chuukese. HDOT has failed to do either thus far.

Access to a drivers’ license is a critical issue for low-income people in Hawaii. 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.

Pleadings

Complaint, filed Sept. 6, 2013
DOJ Statement of Interest, filed March 28, 2014

Press Release

Friday, September 6, 2013: Federal lawsuit filed against Hawaii Department of Transportation for discrimination in administration of driver’s license exam
Honolulu, HI - Faith Action for Community Equity (“FACE”)—a faith-based grassroots community advocacy non-profit—and two Hawaii residents are filing a federal court class action lawsuit today against the Hawaii Department of Transportation (“HDOT”). The lawsuit alleges that HDOT 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 driver’s license. Click here to read more.

Legislative Advocacy

This legislative session, Hawaii Appleseed is building upon its efforts to expand access to driver's licenses by supporting HB 1007 and SB 983 SB 683 to create limited purpose driver's licenses for Hawaii residents who don't have documentation of their lawful presence in the US.

In the News