In New York, Eye Exams No Longer Required For License Renewal

September 28, 2011

For most of us, the process of renewing a driver’s license involves paying a fee, signing some forms, getting a new (but equally bad) photo taken, and passing a standard eye exam. Until recently, this was required in New York, too, but The New York Times reports that a recent change in Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) policy has eliminated the eye exam in order to streamline customer service.

This isn’t the first time that New York has discontinued the vision test for license renewals. From 1993 through 2000, the state dropped the requirement, and a DMV spokesman reported that the change had “no negative impact on traffic safety.” Pressure from doctors ultimately led to the reinstatement of the eye exam for license renewals in 2001.

The change allows drivers renewing licenses to “self-certify” that their vision is good enough to safely operate a motor vehicle. New York DMV commissioner Barbara J. Fiala points out that this is in line with other “self-certify” questions on the exam, such as whether or not the driver has a heart ailment or medical condition that could result in unconsciousness. Oddly, we fail to find Fiala’s examples reassuring.

New York isn’t the only state that doesn’t require eye exams for driver's license renewals, and there seems to be little consistency from state to state in regards to vision testing. Maryland, for example, requires vision testing for all drivers over 40. Oregon pushes this back to age 50 for license renewals, while Virginia doesn’t question your eyesight until age 80.

Those new to driving in the Empire State must still pass an eye examination prior to licensing, so the change affects only drivers renewing their licenses.

New York’s own experience shows that the elimination of the eye exam may not be that big of a deal. Still, with an aging population of drivers and roads that are more crowded than ever before, we have a hard time accepting that “streamlining processes” is a legitimate excuse to potentially impact public safety.

Image credit: Flickr user GoRun26, Creative Commons 2.0

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