Sync up eye exams with license renewal

info@islandpacket.comMay 22, 2013 

One thing seems almost certain here in South Carolina: Lawmakers all too often fail to fully grasp or appreciate how changes they make in one part of the law affect other areas of it.

The most recent example is the revelation -- a decade after the law was changed -- that the state requires an eye examination every five years for driver's license holders, but allows driver's licenses to be renewed every 10 years if you're under age 65.

The two should be brought in line with each other or notices sent out reminding drivers to get their eyes checked.

Many of us are accustomed to getting our eyes tested when we renew our driver's licenses, but that's not the case now. Your eyesight is supposed to be checked every five years even with a 10-year license. On top of that, the state doesn't send out notices telling you to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles for an eye exam or provide proof from an optometrist that your eyesight had been recently checked.

Kevin Shwedo, the DMV's executive director, brought the discrepancy to the attention of the Senate Transportation Committee earlier this month.

"I am required to suspend your license at the five-year mark if you haven't come to DMV and either taken an eye test or bring me a doctor's eye test," Shwedo told the committee. "I haven't suspended a single license because you guys would fire me. But right now, that prevents me from renewing licenses online as soon as we hit the five-year mark."

The Senate's solution is a special budget provision that would suspend the part of the law that penalizes drivers who fail to take an eye exam. The House also would have to approve it.

Sen. Larry Grooms, chairman of the Transportation Committee, said it was a temporary fix until a more permanent solution could be found.

In essence, it makes legal what Shwedo says his department has been doing -- not penalizing drivers who don't follow the law.

That might be fine in the short term, but lawmakers must be careful what they do in the long term.

Eye doctors say an exam every five years is important because a person's eyesight can change a lot in that time and often for the worse.

Lawmakers should resist the temptation to require an eye exam only when a license is renewed every 10 years. If an eye exam is important to driving safety -- and the law and medical experts say it is -- then it should be done often enough to have an impact.

Two other options are possible: Go back to renewing driver's licenses every five years; or send out a notice to drivers reminding them of the five-year eye exam requirement.

Shwedo told senators his department couldn't afford to send out notices. If that's true, then we should go back to renewing licenses every five years.

It's not a burden for drivers, and it's no more expensive than paying double the five-year renewal price for renewing every 10 years, which is the law now.

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