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Phone line highlights fact some drivers might not read English

Richmond driving critic uneasy knowing some drivers may not be able to read important signage
ICBC driver
ICBC announced Friday, Nov. 27, it is launching a new phone line designated for Cantonese and Mandarin speakers. Photo by ICBC

ICBC announced Friday it is launching a new phone line designated for Cantonese and Mandarin speakers, however one driving critic from Richmond isn’t exactly over the moon with the news.

The Chinese-language line will allow ICBC customers to connect to a Cantonese or Mandarin speaking interpreter for issues such as claims, driver licensing and general insurance inquiries.

“With Cantonese and Mandarin being two of the most common languages spoken at home in the Lower Mainland, and two of the most-requested languages through our customer service phone lines, we saw an opportunity to make a small improvement that would make a big difference to thousands of ICBC customers,” said ICBC spokesperson Joanna Linsangan.

The concept was welcomed by the person behind the Twitter account @RichmondDrivers, which documents driving behaviour in Richmond (the account holder wishes to remain anonymous, however the person’s identity has been verified by the Richmond News). But @RichmondDrivers had at least one concern.

“It’s not a bad idea. Although it does scare me that there are people out there who might not be able to read vital information on signs, such as construction notices, ‘danger ahead’ signs etc.” stated @RichmondDrivers.

Notably, there are also posted traffic signs at various intersections that are only in English, which dictate safe driving patterns (such as the signs at No. 2 Road and Westminster Highway that read ‘left turn yield on green’ for the designated left-hand turn lane light).

According to ICBC requirements, one doesn’t need to speak or understand English to get a basic drivers’ licence.

According to 2011 census data, about 10 per cent of Richmond residents cannot speak English or French.

Linsangan said the new Chinese-language lines are in response to growing demand for interpretation services.

ICBC opened a Punjabi line in 2013 and demand for Punjabi services has more than doubled since then.

 “We anticipate a similar kind of response to the Chinese-language line as well, once customers become aware of this service,” said Linsangan.

It will also help them feel more confident and comfortable in discussing their claim with us, and ensure they get the information they need from us much more easily,” she added.

In 2014, ICBC answered 411,000 calls that requested interpretation services. That’s up from 120,000 requests since 2010.

The top three requested languages are Mandarin, Punjabi and Cantonese.

ICBC will pay Winnipeg-based company CanTalk $4.5 million over the next five years for all of its interpretation services.