Sometimes a compromise is better than nothing.
“Compromise can get you a long way,” South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles executive director Kevin Shwedo said. “You don’t ever get what you want or what you think is the absolute perfect solution but it will at least get us through the Real ID implementation.”
Shwedo opposed a bill which reinstates eye exams for citizens renewing their drivers’ licenses. Legislators had initially dropped the requirement last year amid concerns it could slow down the renewal process for the hundreds of thousands of residents expected to request new REAL ID-compliant licenses. But for those supporting the bill, including the South Carolina Optometric Physicians Association (SCOPA), a Senate subcommittee’s decision to advance the bill Thursday was a compromise, too.
Supporters of the vision requirement agreed to delay its re-implementation until September 2020, after a deadline to bring all applicable drivers licenses in compliance with REAL ID.
“We definitely would like to see it sooner but I think that we can make that compromise knowing that the DMV does need some time to get . . . everything lined up for that,” SCOPA president and optometrist Dr. Johndra McNeely said. “We’d like it to go into effect as soon as possible, but it’s not a deal-breaker.”
Delaying the bill’s effectiveness until 2020 will bring some relief to the DMV, which is expecting long lines from residents applying for the new REAL ID licenses. Those licenses will soon be required to travel on commercial airlines and onto secured federal installations. Shwedo argued requiring eye exams would slow down a process that the DMV anticipates could lead to waits as long as six hours.
“It has to do with speed of procedure,” he said. “It also has to do with optimizing our customers’ times. Nobody likes coming to the DMV no matter how pleasant we make the experience. And so if we can reduce or eliminate the requirement to come back in through better business practices, we’ll do that every time.”
But senators disagreed on the impact. “It seemed like the DMV was doing a pretty good job with the lines before we took the vision requirement out,” State Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter, said. “I think we need to get back to doing this.”
State Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry, agreed. “An eye test is going to make the roads of South Carolina incrementally safer in my view,” he said.
In 2017, the legislature approved a bill that removed the requirement for the eye exam. Shwedo originally asked the bill be amended to require eye exams upon every other renewal. Although he told the committee there is no statistical proof that regular eye exams lower the rate of car crashes, he lost that argument.
“It’s not meant to restrict people,” McNeely said. “It’s intended to make people be aware of their surroundings and be safer in that regard.”
An amendment approved Thursday includes a provision for optometrists and ophthalmologists to submit eye exam results for those who renew their licenses online.
South Carolina is one of 12 states along with Washington D.C., that do not require the exam when renewing a license.
The bill now goes to the full Senate Transportation Committee for review.