South Carolina Not Enforcing Vision Law for Senior Drivers

Seven years after South Carolina changed the way it required drivers to prove their eyesight is adequate, the state has failed to establish a system of notifying people when they need to take vision tests or track who has done so.

The state Department of Motor Vehicles confirmed that it has no practical way of enforcing a requirement that drivers under age 65 show every five years their eyes are good enough to get behind the wheel.

State officials have no idea how many people have broken the law, making those drivers eligible for $50 fines though the law is not being enforced. Politicians say they are not pleased.

“The Legislature writes the laws; they’re supposed to enforce the laws,” said state Rep. Annette Young, a Summerville Republican who handles the agency budget. “Just to not comply with the law is not acceptable.”

Lawmakers today plan to discuss a measure that would eliminate the five-year checks. The current law “puts a tremendous burden on the public to have to go and send in a vision test,” said state Rep. Gary Simrill, a Rock Hill Republican who co-sponsored the bill.

He said the current system leaves drivers with “a halfway, 10-year license.”

Tom Crosby, spokesman for AAA of the Carolinas, said people should have eye tests every five years because some physical conditions and eye disease can cause rapid vision deterioration. However, the greater concern is ensuring people 65 and older have frequent tests, he said.

Every South Carolina driver had to submit to eye tests every five years when they renewed their licenses before 2003. When the Legislature extended the license-renewal period from five to 10 years in 2003, lawmakers kept the five-year eye exam requirement and added a fine for people who didn’t obey the vision-test requirement.

Drivers are expected to submit to an eye exam test or go to a Department of Motor Vehicles office to take one every five years — things that used to be done when a license expired.

“The law as it’s written now, it’s just very difficult to administer,” DMV spokeswoman Beth Parks said Monday. “No one is complying with it.”

The agency doesn’t appear to be getting the word out about the requirement to the state’s drivers, either. The department’s Web site only mentions a vision requirement to get licenses, but not the five-year vision test. Parks thanked a reporter for pointing that out.

Parks couldn’t immediately say how many of the state’s 3.9 million licensed drivers have broken the law and are subject to the fine. The licenses of drivers age 65 and older must be renewed every five years — and vision tests are needed for those.

When legislators changed the law in 2003, it was seen as a way of giving drivers a break from standing in DMV lines.

But, Parks noted, “If you have them come into the DMV office every five years, you’ve defeated the purpose of giving them a 10-year license.”