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Hispanics line up for driving school

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Bringing Hispanic immigrants up to speed in their new society has become a daunting task, as school teachers and cops are learning at breakneck speed. In the past decade, North Carolina saw the greatest percentage surge of Latino immigrants of any US state.

And here, minus the longstanding cultural roots Latinos have developed in America's Southwest, the dramatic demographic shift has created tension points, especially growing political debate over the status - including driving privileges - of illegal Hispanic immigrants.

Southerners say they're alternatively thankful for and mystified by their new neighbors. Most of all, many are confounded by Latino penchants like backyard butchering and a seeming disregard of local traffic laws.

More driving accidents

In fact, sometimes the culture clash looks a lot like a demolition derby. Hispanics are gumming up courts and plowing into the back ends of trucks, uninsured and often unlicensed. What's more, the dangers of drinking and driving haven't necessarily filtered into the depths of the often insulated Spanish-language neighborhoods in Wake, Durham, and Chatham Counties. The North Carolina Highway Patrol reports that Hispanics are eight times more likely to be involved in a driving-while-intoxicated accident than other groups.

But while some problems are directly attributable to sheer disregard of US laws, most of it is simply ignorance: Segregated by language and culture - and often fearful of contact with any kind of US officials - many immigrants simply do as well as they can.

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