April 23, 2014

SC House blocks vision waivers for truck drivers

State lawmakers last week rejected an effort to grant certain drivers with vision troubles a special waiver that would allow them to continue driving commercial vehicles.The South Carolina House of Representatives this week rejected a bill in a 61-41 vote that would have created the Intrastate Vision Waiver Program.

Federal regulations require drivers to have 20/40 in both eyes either with or without corrective lenses in order to get a commercial driver’s license (CDL). The CDL is needed to operate a truck across state lines.

But senators voted unanimously last year to allow the licenses for commercial drivers with one bad eye who do not cross into other states, so long as they met tougher criteria. Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, said he filed the law to help a constituent who lost his license (and job) after the federal regulations changed. Grooms said 33 other states allow for the waivers.

To get a waiver, an applicant would need a clean driving record, 20/40 vision in at least one eye and a binocular horizontal visual field diameter of not less than 120 degrees and a vertical field of not less than 80 degrees without the use of visual field expanders. The driver would also need clearance from an ophthalmologist and would need to carry a medical certificate with them in their vehicle. A waiver would need to be renewed every two years (as opposed to every five years for a traditional CDL).

But the House rejected the proposal after State Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Tega Cay — a CDL holder himself — said he felt allowing truck drivers with poorer eyesight would be dangerous.

“We had some people testify (to us) who were good people and wanted to work. But, I’m sorry,” he told fellow legislators. “The one thing you need in driving a vehicle with that amount of weight is two eyes.”

Grooms said he believed opponents misunderstood the bill’s intentions, which he insisted would only apply to a very small number of drivers. “This bill received a bad name and now there’s a gentleman with a perfect driving record who is now going to lose his livelihood,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.

Grooms said he was especially irritated because federal regulations provide an exception for drivers with poor vision who work on behalf or federal, state, or municipal governments.

There are about 128,000 drivers with CDLs in South Carolina, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.