Able To Read English Essential to Drivers?
Road signs are a combination of symbols and words. In Australia those words are in English. Even so, there are still two groups of drivers who find it difficult to understand written English:
- Native-born people with low literacy - Migrant workers and visitors with little English skills or dyslexia
Low Literacy Around 2.4 million Australians aged 15-74 years have literacy levels at or below level 2 out of 5. Whilst people at this level could possibly hold a properly understandable conversation, reading is not their strong point, and reading a sign while driving a car at 100km/h adds extra complexity. We are aware of drivers in some industries that struggle to read. They may have got their licence forty-five years ago when there was no graduated driver license system with a written theory test.
Migrants and Visitors Admittedly, most migrant workers and tourists have very good English skills. However, reading signs in English at high speed seems to be a difficulty to them if their native language uses wholly different characters. With over a million of visitors coming to Australia each year from North East Asia such as China, Japan and South Korea, most of whom rent vehicles, there are still not a small number of them driving on roads who have to count on reading the roads ahead rather than reading the signs.
Australia’s Road Signs We have an amazing number of road signs which are just written in words with no images, for example:
- Give way to pedestrians - Left lane must exit - Left turn on red permitted after stopping - No overtaking or passing - Road work ahead
A person who cannot read signs like this has to rely on what they see on roads, which means they have less time to monitor their speed or position and prepare for a hazard.
Countries which are exempt from taking a license test:
Take a look at the following set of countries. People with a driver license from one of these countries do not have to take an Australian driver knowledge test or practical driving test to exchange their full driver license for a full Australian driving license. (Please note this list only applies to cars and motorbikes, not heavy vehicles).
- Austria - Belgium - Bosnia and Herzegovina - Canada - Croatia - Denmark - Finland - France - Germany - Greece - Guernsey - Ireland - Isle of Man (licenses issued since 1 April 1991) - Italy - Japan - Jersey - Luxembourg - Malta (licenses issued or renewed since 2 January 2004) - The Netherlands - New Zealand - Norway - Portugal - Singapore - Spain - Sweden - Switzerland - The United Kingdom - The United States of America
18 of those countries do not have English as their main language.
Moreover, if the driver is over 25, the following countries are included: - Bulgaria - The Republic of Cyrus - The Czech Republic - Estonia - Hong Kong (please note: Hong Kong license holders must have held Hong Kong license for a minimum of 12-month period) - Hungary - Latvia - Lithuania - Poland - Romania - Serbia - Slovakia - Slovenia - South Africa - South Korea - Taiwan
14 of those 16 countries do not have English as their main language and many of them use non-Roman characters in their alphabet.
Consequences for not being able to read road signs Arguably, the most of driving is not determined by being able to read road signs, drivers can generally discover what's going on by watching the movement of other traffic. However, it does increase risks and it may bring about some situations where people’s lives could be put at risk, such as:
- Ford – signs show there will have standing water on the road which is very difficult to see at night. Ploughing in it at high speed can result in a driver losing control. - Reduce speed now - some types of intersections are coming up and there would be risk of not being able to halt in time. - Prepare to stop - roadworks are ahead and a driver may need to stop.
Health and Safety Obligations Companies should have had obligations to help keep their drivers safe. Safe Work Australia estimates as much as up to 65% of road fatalities entail people driving for work. Companies can reduce this risk by providing literacy education to their staff that drives, and it will probably also increase workers’ general performances, too.
Companies that are aware of motorists with low English literacy should ensure those drivers understand road signs properly if part of their job is driving.
Driver Obligations Drivers are responsible for the safety of themselves and other road users. The minimum that a driver must be able to do is read and understand all of Australia’s English-language street and highway signs, regardless of where they are from and what their first language is.
We might reach to a point that a critical mass of immigrants or visitors to Australia should be required to read road signs or our system should be altered to be more visual. Other countries which have large numbers of tourists and uncommon languages do this, such as Israel whose trilingual signs appear in Hebrew, Arabic and English, Wales where signs and road markings are written in Welsh and English, and Iceland whose signs are usually in visual graphics accompanied by English language panels. In the case of Iceland where the majority of population speaks English and there even more English-speaking tourists come to the island each year than the residents on the island itself.
Iceland's road signs where there danger might appear on the road