Officials, residents agree with eye exam revise
TRI-COUNTY AREA—Only two days after no longer requiring a vision test to renew a driver’s license, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles put the measure on hold last Friday to review it.
Yates County Clerk Julie Betts said the state initially announced the change last Monday and put it into effect by last Wednesday. However, local officials, including Betts’s office, voiced opposition to the change.
Under the short-lived change, drivers had the option to not take an eye examination at the DMV’s office. According to the state, this would have allowed people to renew online.
Betts said all a person had to do was certify they had 20-40 vision on the renewal form. She added a person could request to take the exam if they wanted it.
The change made county DMV offices across the state and several officials concerned. Betts said she was “dismayed with the new policy. Our first priority is safety.” She explained renewing a license is where some people find out for the first time they need corrective lenses.
“I think very few people know if they have 20-40 vision,” said Schuyler County Clerk Linda Compton. “Your vision gets worse so slowly you get used to it. Some people don’t know they have issues until they can’t pass the vision test.”
In a press release about initially removing the eye test, Steuben County Clerk Judy Hunter said, “this is a ludicrous and irresponsible decision made by state DMV administrators which makes absolutely no sense to us and people from all over the state. I am also very disappointed that county clerks, medical professionals, law enforcement officials, and the public were not thoroughly consulted before this decision, that could jeopardize people’s safety, was made.”
Betts explained the first she heard of the change was last Monday when the announcement was made. Betts, as well as Hunter, joined several other county clerks in a press conference in Rochester last Wednesday to oppose the changes. They were joined by Dr. Michelle Lagana, a Rochester area optometrist and vice president of the New York State Optometric Association. She said she was deeply concerned by the move to “rely instead on people self-certifying that their vision is adequate to operate a motor vehicle.”
Sheriff Ron Spike said, “Sometimes I feel government can over-regulate, but verification that one’s vision means that they can safely operate a motor vehicle and see the traffic control devices etc. is essential to everyone’s public safety on our highways. I also fear that this may be another way the state can take revenue away from counties. This appears to be simply bad policy.”
When several, random Yates County residents were asked, all did not like removing the exam. Mike Catlin said in his personal opinion, cutting the mandatory eye test was stupid. He added it is critical to test drivers and make sure they can see.
“I don’t agree with that,” said Tom Smart. “I think you need to see to drive.”
“I think it’s a mistake. It’s a safety issue and important to have,” said John Steeves.
Martha Weichman said, “It’s probably convenient for people. But, I’m not sure it’s a great idea.” She said older people’s eyes can change, becoming worse over time.
“Some people need to have an eye test,” said Linda Shaff. She added that she is 65 years old and she can see fine while driving now, but, “I don’t want to hurt anymore.”
According to a press release from the state DMV, vision testing was not required in New York from 1993 to 2000. The state goes on to say, “statistics show that there was no negative impact on traffic safety.” The release says the state made the change to improve convenience for drivers.
Betts said, safety aside, the other concern the DMV offices had was the renewal fees not going to the county. If someone renews their license locally, the county gets the revenue. However, Betts explained if someone renewed online, the state would get the money.