Eyes on South Carolina as DMV, Optometrists Square Off over Vision Test Bill

By: Kyle Magin March 14, 2018
South Carolina legislators are pushing to add a vision test requirement to their driver's license application process. The head of the state's DMV is pushing back.

South Carolinians may wonder if they need their eyes checked after reading recent comments by a state employee who’s gunning for a legislative fight with Palmetto State optometrists.

Kevin Shwedo—a former U.S. Army battalion commander and current South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) executive director—is taking issue with the South Carolina House of Representatives, which recently passed a bill requiring state residents to pass an eye exam before applying for or renewing a driver’s license. The S.C. Optometric Physicians Association co-authored the bill.

The bill, first introduced in January, would require applicants for new and renewal driver’s licenses to pass an eye exam at the DMV or provide written proof from an optometrist that they passed the necessary vision test. Conducting eye exams at the DMV would increase wait times and be an unnecessary inconvenience to South Carolina motorists, Shwedo argued.

“If you can demonstrate that we’re going to improve public safety—all in, baby,” Shwedo said. “But if you can’t and we see what we’ve seen in every other state where we can renew online and shorten the lines for the citizens of this great state, we’re good.”

And the numbers may back him up: South Carolina’s traffic fatalities dropped by 5% between 2016 and 2017, from 1,011 to 952, according to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, with the eye exam requirement disappearing in October 2017 when South Carolina began allowing residents to renew their driver’s licenses online. Re-establishing the exam requirement could invalidate the 1.1 million online license applications the state has processed for REAL ID licenses since then, Shwedo added.

Still, Jason Elliott (R-Greenville), the legislation’s lead sponsor, says the vision test provision is a necessary part of acquiring a driver’s license for safety reasons.

“A core function of state government is to ensure the public safety,” Elliott said. “A critical and important and necessary part of safely driving a vehicle is being able to see.”

Elliott’s bill also proposes that the drivers who already renewed their licenses online be exempted from the vision test.

The bill is currently in the hands of the South Carolina Senate’s Transportation Committee.

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