DMV Tries Out New Eye Test at 6 Undisclosed Field Offices

Friday, June 15, 2007

A new eye test is getting a test-run at some California DMV offices.

The DMV says, it's just trying to identify people who can't see well enough to drive. But some seniors think, it's targeting the elderly.

The printer cartridge isn't on the fritz. The letters on the new contrast sensitivity eye charts are supposed to fade.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles is trying the pilot program at six undisclosed field offices.

"You can't even read the bottom line, even if you had X-ray vision," Ted McOsker, a driver with 20/20 vision, said.

Though DMV video shows us drivers of all ages taking the test, it's clear the agency is interested in how the aging baby boomers do.

The eye chart tests how things look in varying light.

"It can be precursor to cataracts. It can tell if a person does have physical impairment," Mike Marando, of the California DMV, said.

For years, state leaders have grappled with how to test senior drivers without discriminating against them.

Just last month, a 70-year-old Bay Area driver mistook his accelerator for the brake pedal, ran over the curb at a middle school and slammed into a group of kids. No one was killed, but 15 were injured.

The same pedal confusion happened to an 86-year old driver four years ago when he plowed into the Santa Monica Farmers' Market, killing nine people.

The Insurance Information Institute says older drivers have the second highest rate of fatal crashes, behind teen drivers.

The new eye charts might help identify those who shouldn't be behind the wheel.

"It's got a great traffic safety impact to it and it's good for road safety as well," Marando said.

Sixty-year-old Ruth Allen feels the new eye charts are unfair to senior drivers.

"Let's put it this way, it's a total blur," Allen said.

Anyone who fails the eye test will be given a computerized perception test that could result in limiting or taking away a driver's license.

The results of this summer pilot program will determine if the rest of the state will get the new charts.

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