New York Abandons Eye Exams For Driver's Licenses

The state will allow people to certify that they can see, rather than actually taking an exam

Starting Wednesday, the New York Department of Motor Vehicles has a new policy that should scare every driver on the road: New drivers don't need to prove they can see.

Yes, you read that right. Anyone can self-certify that he has adequate vision before taking to the roads. No more looking at that pesky eye chart to make sure you can see at least 20 feet away. Nope. In New York -- and as Reuters reports, in six other states -- you just have to pinky-swear you can see before hopping behind the wheel.

New York used to require that people show up every 8 years at the DMV or at their doctor's office to take an eye exam. State Senator Patty Ritchie (R-Ogdensburg), said she's opposed to the new regulations, because many people aren't aware of their deteriorating vision until they're forced to take a vision test. The move is simply a ploy by the cash-strapped state to boost driver license renewals online, she said.

"New York has made great progress in making our roads safer, including a determined effort to crack down on dangerous and distracted driving," said Senator Ritchie, referring to new laws against cell phone use, texting and aggressive driving.

Driver advocacy groups like AAA also oppose the new legislation.

"The most critical faculty for safety when driving is good vision," said AAA New York spokesman Robert Sinclair. "Because of illness, injury or the natural degradation of eyesight that takes place after age 40, it's important to have regular checkups to ensure good vision. With the new regulations, conceivably, a person could go decades without having their vision checked."

By forcing more folks online, the state doesn't have to share any money with the county clerk. When motorists go to their local DMV, the state gives the county about 12% of the $62.50 license renewal. When it's done online, the county gets zip.

License renewals vary from year to year, but last year there were about 2 million licenses renewed in New York state. If everyone in the state were to renew licenses online or through the mail, the state would keep $15 million in its coffers that would have otherwise gone to county governments.

State Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Barbara Fiala, who is responsible for the change, said New York State saw statistically no adverse effect on safety between 1993 and 2000, when the state temporarily lifted its eye exam requirements. Then, Gov. George Pataki pushed for the move as a money-saver, and he reinstated the exams in 2000 after pressure from doctors.

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