THESE DAYS, there are few Finnish immigrants on the roads of Massachusetts. Yet the state dutifully provides a Finnish-language driving test, just in case. On the other hand, the Commonwealth offers no driving test in the languages spoken by a growing number of refugees who have come to Massachusetts from countries like Somalia, Burma, and Bhutan.
That’s the basic disconnect that has propelled many of those immigrants to travel to Arizona, where rules are looser, to take the driving test there. After procuring an Arizona license, many return to Massachusetts and swap it for a Bay State license, thus circumventing the Massachusetts exam. Concerned about possible fraud, the state has recently suspended 124 licenses obtained using the Arizona loophole.
Driving safely doesn’t require language proficiency - as the countless Americans who have driven in Europe on an international driving permit know. But it should require an understanding of the rules of the road, which is just what the written exam is supposed to test.
In the case of the Arizona licenses, the Registry of Motor Vehicles has valid concerns over fraud, and it is understandably reluctant to allow test-takers to use an interpreter, which would open up too many avenues for unprepared drivers to get licenses.
The best solution would be for the state to solve the underlying problem by offering the test in more languages. Tests offered should reflect the state’s changing immigrant population. And in the event Tuukka Rask needs a license, the state can even keep the Finnish test, too.