Sunday, May 20, 2007

New glasses may help the visually impaired to get their license more easily!

Officials with the Division of Motor Vehicles say they're considering whether to allow poor-sighted people who wear bioptic lenses to get a driver's license, citing reports of better technology and improved on-the-road training.

Deputy DMV Commissioner Steve Dale said if the Legislature hadn't called for an interim study of the issue, then the DMV would have.

"We are not totally against it," Dale said. "But we think that the issue deserves additional study."
Bioptic lenses are like small telescopes attached to eyeglasses that help people with poor vision see at a distance. People with cataracts, corneal diseases and macular degeneration are among those who use them.

Dale estimated there are probably several hundred people in the state who wear the lenses.
Staff attorneys recently

a legislative interim committee -- already at work on a possible bill -- that 35 other states now issue restricted driver's licenses to people who use bioptic lenses.

Two bills that were introduced last session in the House of Delegates would have given West Virginians with the special lenses a chance to drive, but the proposals didn't make much headway among lawmakers. Dale said legislators brought out the bills without giving DMV officials any notice, so the agency couldn't get on board.

"It kind of hit us a little bit cold," he said.

But Dale said after talking to doctors and people who use the lenses and seeing some professional and federal agencies warming up to the idea, the division is keeping an open mind about any future legislation.

Both the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the American Academy of Ophthalmology now say that driver's licenses should be given to people who wear the lenses, but only after a road test.

About 10 years ago, the safety administration sent a letter to former state DMV Commissioner Joe Miller advising that it could not support licensing bioptic wearers from a safety standpoint. The letter said such drivers were 2.2 times more likely to be involved in crashes than people with correctable vision and 2.3 times more likely to be involved in crashes that caused serious injury or death.

The DMV and the State Police conducted a pilot program in the early 1990s that allowed some people with the lenses to get behind the wheel.

Thirteen West Virginians who use the lenses still have restricted driver's licenses from participating in the program, Dale said.

The state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation prompted the project, which gave licenses to 18 people who use bioptic lenses. Of those drivers, seven were involved in car crashes and 10 had received traffic tickets, according to the state.

Dale could not immediately provide information on the severity of the crashes, or who was at fault.
One of the drivers who participated in the program had a suspended license because of a "multitude" of unpaid citations, Dale said.

Dale said the DMV decided not to push for a continuance of the program because of the warning from the federal traffic safety administration and because of a 1997 study by the California DMV that found drivers with bioptic lenses were three times more likely to be involved in car crashes.
Dale said so far he hasn't seen any hard evidence that suggests crash rates have improved, but he has heard recently there have been developments in the field that may increase the safety factor of the lenses. That's what the DMV hopes to learn through the interim committee's research, he said.
"It may be a situation where with the appropriate restrictions and appropriate requirements and annual recertification, it may be very feasible in West Virginia," he said.

One of the things the DMV might consider is to restrict the licenses of bioptic lens wearers so they could only drive during daylight hours.

The state Division of Rehabilitation Services already trains other states that are setting up programs to license bioptic lens wearers.


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