A South Carolina Senate panel earlier this month voted to delay until 2020 reversing an earlier decision to end vision screening for residents when they renew their driver’s license. That’s a mistake, and it could lead to otherwise avoidable injuries and deaths.
The initial move last year to drop the eye exams was made to smooth the way for licensed drivers who want to upgrade to the Real ID licenses. With the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks in mind, Congress passed the Real ID law in 2005. Some states have come into compliance since then, others, like South Carolina, have received extensions. By fall 2020, either the enhanced license or a passport will be needed to board a plane or enter a federal building. Otherwise, you'll need to produce additional ID or possibly submit to further screening.
After the vision screening requirement was dropped last year, eye doctors, public safety advocates and others in the state successfully lobbied to bring it back. But just as South Carolina seemed poised to make it happen, objections emerged from Department of Motor Vehicles Director Kevin Shwedo. According to a story in The State newspaper, he argued that more than one million online applications DMV received for new Real ID licenses would have to be invalidated and require applicants to come to the DMV in person. That, he said, would create too much of a burden on the department, as well as other customers who would have to brave longer lines and wait times.
No one likes to wait in line, though actually most DMV offices have ample seating and a digital check-in system that alerts customers when a clerk is available. But that is a flimsy argument against ensuring that as many drivers as possible on our roads can actually see well enough to drive.
According to the National Institutes for Health, “requiring that licensed drivers have visual acuity at the 20/30 level or better enhances the likelihood that drivers can read highway signs well in advance of the time they need to make decisions and execute motor responses.”
In February, when the S.C. House voted overwhelmingly, 109-1, to bring back the eye-exam requirement by September 2019, State Rep. Jason Elliott (R-Greenville), according to The State, called that vote a victory for "the concept that you need to be able to see to drive a car.”
Ending the requirement for vision screening was a mistake. Delaying a new law bringing it back only compounds it.
Hindsight may be 20/20, but lawmakers apparently have fuzzy vision when it comes to public safety.