TUSCALOOSA, ALA.â€“Manuel Castillo drove through Alabama in a truck filled with onions and left with a $500 ticket for something he didn’t think he was doing: speaking English poorly.
Castillo, who was stopped on his way back to California, said he knows federal law requires him to be able to converse in English with an officer but he thought his language skills were good enough to avoid a ticket.
Still, Castillo said he plans to pay the maximum fine of $500 rather than return to fight the ticket.
“It just doesn’t seem fair to be ticketed if I wasn’t doing anything dangerous on the road,” he said.
An Alabama state trooper thought Castillo, 50, couldn’t speak English well enough to drive an 18-wheeler when he was headed back to California from picking up onions in Glennville, Ga. A driver for 20 years, Castillo was stopped in west Alabama for a routine inspection.
Castillo, who says he speaks English at roughly a Grade 3 level, said he understood when the trooper asked him where he was heading and to see his commercial driver’s licence and registration. He said he responded in English, though he speaks with an accent.
Castillo wasn’t speeding, and the inspection and computer check turned up no offences, so he was surprised to get a ticket for being a “non-English-speaking driver.”
Federal law requires that anyone with a commercial driver’s licence speak English well enough to talk with police. Authorities last year issued 25,230 tickets nationwide for violations. Now the federal government is trying to tighten the English requirement, saying the change is needed for safety reasons.