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Senate eyes vision tests for drivers renewing licenses

By Jim Hannah, LRC

Frankfort, KY - A bill that would require vision screenings for Kentucky drivers renewing their licenses advanced out of the Senate Transportation Committee today.

"This is a very common-sense piece of legislation that will save lives by ensuring Kentuckians have the necessary visual acuity to operate motor vehicles," Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, said of the legislation, known as House Bill 439. "Forty-two states have requirements for vision screenings during driver's license renewals ... including Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia."

Currently, Kentucky only requires vision screenings for new drivers.

"Without a doubt, in the states who have this there are less fatalities, car accidents and hospitalization rates are lower," Moser said. She has worked on the legislation for several years.

Senate Majority Whip Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, commended Moser on HB 439.

"I've had aging parents who are no longer with me," he said. "One of the hardest things to do is take away their driver's licenses. As you see them growing older and their eyesight getting worse, we realize they probably shouldn't be driving, but we don't have the heart to take away their license."

Committee Chair Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, asked who could perform the required vision screening. Moser said motorists could have the vision screening done in advance by medical professionals instead of the place of renewal.

Sen. Johnnie Turner, R, Harlan, voted for HB 439 but wondered aloud whether it was fiscally prudent to require young motorists to have their eyes tested at the same frequency as older folks.

"I would request that ... we try to keep some statistical information with age," he said. "I would like to see some information down the road on whether we do or do not need young people to get their eyes tested."

Sen. David Yates, D-Louisville, asked how much it would cost the state to implement HB 439. Moser predicted it would be nominal to the state. She said that vision tests could be incorporated with an ongoing overhaul of how the state issues driver's licenses to comply with the federal REAL ID Act.

Moser added that HB 439 contained an effective date of July 1, 2024, to give the Transportation Cabinet time to implement the measure within the overall REAL ID overhaul. That overhaul includes the option of driver's licenses that expire after eight years instead of the traditional four.

Sen. Brandon J. Storm, R-London, expressed concerns about the costs for low-income motorists. Moser pointed out that Medicaid covers preventative health screenings, including vision tests.

Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, said as a son of an ophthalmologist, that he enthusiastically supported HB 439.

"Not only is this making our roads safer, I think it has some public health benefits," he said. "It essentially compels people to get fairly regular eye exams. The earlier you catch eye diseases, the more likely they are treatable. You will be saving people's vision."

HB 439 now goes to the full Senate for further consideration.

This story was posted on 2021-03-10 18:30:06
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