We’ve all been there. We’ve witnessed questionable driving on the road, been a passenger in a car whose driver makes us anxious, or recognized that our own driving abilities have gone downhill. Regardless of which perspective best describes you, the truth is that without good vision, driving is difficult at best and downright dangerous at worst. It’s natural for the body’s functions to deteriorate with age, so it seems logical that the sense most used for safe vehicle operation be tested periodically. However, the state of Kentucky doesn’t require vision tests at license renewals. An accident last fall brought this issue to the forefront in Western KY. Former McCracken County Judge-Executive Van Newberry was on his bicycle when he was fatally struck by a motorist who, according to the McCracken County Sheriff’s Office, showed “severe visual impairment.” Could this tragedy have been avoided if the 68-year-old motorist’s vision had been regularly monitored by the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles? Under the current system, the hope is that individuals will decide for themselves when they are no longer fit to operate a vehicle and voluntarily surrender their driver’s license. Sometimes, people do come to that realization. Other times, friends and family members intervene to help convince their loved one to stay off the road. However, it’s not often that someone willingly gives up driving privileges. It’s also not often that someone’s vision deteriorates suddenly. Rather, it is a gradual change, making it easier perhaps for people to deny that they’re not fit to safely operate a motor vehicle. Doctors and law enforcement officers can notify the state’s medical review board to request a driver’s eyes be evaluated, and reports of unsafe driving can end up as flags on a person’s record when they go to renew their license, but these are not very common occurrences. The majority of states acknowledge potential vision impairment at the time of renewal. Kentucky is one of only eight states that does not require vision re-testing at any age when a person renews his or her license. Neighboring Tennessee is another. In fact, a vision exam is required in Kentucky only in the following three instances:
- When a person applies for a learner’s permit
- When a driver transfers from another state with an expired license
- When a driver transfers from another country.