Access to a drivers’ license is critical for many low-income people in Hawaii who need to drive to get to work and support their families.

In Hawaii, which has the most diverse population in the nation, thousands of people each year use translated versions of the drivers’ test to get their license. In 2009, when a new question was added to the drivers’ test, instead of translating the question, the state withdrew all translations of the test and refused to allow people to use interpreters. The withdrawal of the translations created a difficult barrier to securing a drivers’ license, even for Hawaii residents who had a basic grasp of English but did not understand uncommon words and phrases on the exam like “inadvertently “ and “ride up.”

In early 2013, the issue was brought to the attention to Faith Action for Community Equity (FACE), a faith-based grassroots community advocacy non-profit. For months, FACE tried to get the Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT) to re-institute the translated exams, to no avail.

In September 2013, LEJ, along with pro bono partners Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing, filed a federal court class action against HDOT on behalf of FACE and two Hawaii residents who needed the translated versions of the exams. The suit alleged that HDOT discriminated against Hawaii residents of various ethnic and national origins by failing to allow translation or interpretation of the written driver’s exam, especially given the ease and minimal cost of translating a single question.

In 2015, after nearly two years of hard-fought litigation, LEJ reached as settlement that required HDOT to offer 14 different translations of the drivers’ test and 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.