Politics & Government

Lawmakers want to bring back mandatory eye exams for SC drivers. But there's a catch

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S.C. residents who upgrade to new, federally compliant Real ID driver's licenses over the next two years might not need to take an eye exam first.

That's because a state Senate panel on Thursday voted to delay — until September 2020 — bringing back a former state law that required the vision screenings for driving license renewals.

Lawmakers dropped the eye-exam test last year — an effort to make it easier for South Carolina's 4 million drivers to upgrade to new Real IDs — before rethinking this year whether that was a good idea.

In February, the S.C. House voted to bring back the eye-exam requirement by September 2019. State Rep. Jason Elliott, R-Greenville, called that vote a victory for "the concept that you need to be able to see to drive a car."

S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles Director Kevin Shwedo has lobbied against the eye-exam test. He told a Senate panel Thursday that he has seen no statistics showing car accidents have increased in states, including South Carolina, that dropped the eye-exam requirement.

Shwedo said the vision screenings are a needless layer of red tape that lengthens lines at local Motor Vehicles offices. He said those lines already will be lengthy over the next two years because millions of S.C. drivers will procrastinate upgrading to Real IDs until 2020 — right before the old S.C. driver's licenses will stop being accepted at airports and federal buildings.

“I’m still very, very, very worried about what the lines will become, particularly in the last year," Shwedo said. "That's going to be the really ugly period."

Senators on Thursday weren't sold on Shwedo's argument that eye exams don't make the roads safer. But they heeded the retired Army colonel's warnings about lengthy lines in 2020, voting to push back restoring eye exams until September 2020.

“I support putting that requirement back in the process," said state Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry. "There’s value in that.

"I don’t know how much. But I’d rather err on the side of caution.”

Reach Wilks at 803-771-8362. Follow him on Twitter @AveryGWilks.
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