Why the NYS DMV was wrong but not crazy

Oct 07 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Along with many optometrists in New York state, I too was outraged last week when out of the blue and without warning the DMV announced that they would no longer make it mandatory for drivers to have their vision tested every 8 years to ensure they meet the proper visual requirements needed for safe driving. Patients come in to me on a regular basis clutching those little white and blue forms that I have to fill out and sign. On the form I have to fill in the patient's best distance visual acuity in each eye and whether or not they needed corrective lenses (glasses or contacts) to achieve a visual acuity of at least 20/40.

I can tell you, in my clinical experience, this quick check of the eyes really works. Some people come in not even realizing how poor their vision was with their current prescription, some need glasses for the first time and sometimes eye conditions and illnesses are found during my health portion of the exam with them that could have threatened their vision and quality of life had they continued to go on undetected. All because of that little form bringing them in. When I see a patient like that, who was blurry and didn't even realize it, I always drive away from my office that night shaking my head. Scared to think of how many other people out there are blurry as well and how many years it will take them to realize it. Needless to say, I drive a little slower and more cautious on nights like those.

I think the idea of patients 'self-certifying' that their vision is acceptable is preposterous for the reason I have previously stated. Sometimes changes in the eye and vision happen so slowly over time, people do not even detect how poor their vision had gotten.

Now, when I got the idea to write a blog post about this, I tried to think like a science writer and not an optometrist. I had to put on my 'scientist cap' and think like a scientist. I immediately went to my good friend PubMed to do a search and find recent studies to back my case of keeping the vision requirement. Many studies I found gave vague results and conclusions, some just saying that there is only a weak correlation shown between visual acuity, visual field, and a lower incidence of motor vehicle accidents with the current methods of testing. It seems most experimenters agreed that while somehow vision should be assessed, the current method of testing may not be the best, there might be a better way out there (in addition to visual acuity) that would better predict the likelihood of a person to have a motor vehicle crash.

Ideas are forming about implementing methods of testing vision that may identify high-risk drivers with an even finer-tooth comb such as Useful Field of View (UFOV) and contrast sensitivity. However, with the DMV pulling the plug on visual testing altogether incorporating new testing is not even on their radar. That wouldn't be 'cost-effective.'

But can we afford not to? With an aging baby boomer population and modern day dangers like the person in the next lane texting, we are facing things out on the roadways we never have before. We must take the time to ensure our safety and the safety of others. If anything, MORE  needs to be done now, not less!

The DMV was wrong to abolish vision testing with only 2 days warning and without any input from health care professionals or organizations. They are not crazy in thinking that things may need to change with the current testing and method of assessment, but deleting the entire vision requirement is not a solution, it's a problem. I am glad to see that according to a statement on the New York State Optometric Association's website, they have now reinstated the vision testing requirement and have formed an "advisory group of health, safety and transportation experts 'to determine the best and most effective way to ensure that New York's drivers possess the visual acuity necessary for safe driving.'"

Small victories are still victories, now drive safe out there!


Owsley, Cynthia PhD, MSPH The Vision and Driving Challenge. Journal of Neuro-Ophthalmology:
June 2010 - Volume 30 - Issue 2 - pp 115-116
doi: 10.1097/WNO.0b013e3181e2d045

2 responses so far

  • Vicki says:

    From another angle: this may be the only vision testing most adults get. So the point isn't just to get people off the road, but to enable them to drive safely, which might mean eyeglasses or even cataract surgery. And that information about their vision, and ideally treatment [insert standard rant about what passes for a healthcare system around here], will be useful in other areas of their lives as well.

  • cherylmurphy says:

    Vicki, I couldn't agree more and eluded to that earlier in the article 🙂 excellent point!