Cindi Ross Scoppe

If you can’t read this headline, no worries. South Carolina still lets you drive

The SC Legislature repealed the vision test last year for driver’s license renewals. What could go wrong?
The SC Legislature repealed the vision test last year for driver’s license renewals. What could go wrong?

FOUR QUESTIONS.

1. The brakes on your car are failing. Do you:

A. Get them replaced immediately?

B. Wait until they get worse, but drive more carefully?

C. Have them removed?

2. You lose your keys, which are attached to a tag with your home address on it. Do you:

A. Have all your locks re-keyed?

B. Take your chances, figuring if anyone finds them, it’ll be someone honest?

C. Stop locking your house?

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Cindi Ross Scoppe



3. Your voting machines don’t count every 100th vote cast. Do you:

A. Get them repaired or replaced?

B. Assume a 1 percent error is too small to make any difference?

C. Just make up the vote totals?

4. Your driver’s license vision test doesn’t screen out all the people who can’t see well enough to drive. Do you:

A. Change the test so it does catch them all?

B. Keep administering it, because it keeps a lot of people off the road who shouldn’t be driving?

C. Eliminate it and let everybody drive regardless of whether they can see?

If you answered “A” to all those questions, you’re a rational, responsible person.

If you said “B,” you’re a lot more comfortable with risk than I am, but I wouldn’t automatically say you’re crazy.

If you said “C,” you must be Kevin Shwedo, who runs South Carolina’s Department of Motor Vehicles and told some legislators last year that we should eliminate the vision test because it’s just a bureaucratic waste of time. And instead of locking him up for observation, lawmakers said, “What a great idea!” Or at least the few who heard his request or noticed the easy-to-overlook provision in a larger driver’s license bill said that.

__________

No passport? No military ID? You could soon be grounded

Do you know the purpose of license plates, driver’s licenses? Do your legislators?

It turns out there’s at least one other person who thinks no vision tests is a good idea

__________

Now, I have no reason to believe that our vision test is in fact a waste of time. This is, after all, the same DMV director who in 2012 manufactured 1,000 zombie voters — dead people whom he said had voted but who, upon investigation, turned out to be the product of his own sloppy record-counting. But even if you assume he’s right about the vision test, how in the world do you get from “the vision test isn’t working” to “we shouldn’t have a vision test”?

Rep. Jason Elliott has no idea. Mr. Elliott, who sponsored the bill to reinstate the vision test, struggled as he tried to explain why we need it. “It’s almost like when you have to argue that the sun comes up every day,” he told me after the House passed H.4672 by a vote of 109-1.

It’s easy and fun to blame Mr. Shwedo, and certainly he deserves some blame. But not all of it.

The Legislature manages, far more often than not, to ignore the ridiculous requests of state agency directors. For that matter, it manages to ignore the really smart requests of state agency directors. But it chose not to ignore Mr. Shwedo’s request, and for that, the Legislature is to blame.

Did I mention that South Carolina has one of the highest highway death rates in the nation?

I’m told that some senators noticed the “no vision test” provision during last year’s debate, but decided to let it go through rather than risk killing the bill it was tucked inside of — the bill to bring South Carolina into compliance with the 2004 federal anti-terrorism law that requires stricter security measures to obtain driver’s licenses.

And why did we need to rush to get that law passed? Because back in 2007, the Legislature — kowtowing to a peculiar kind of South Carolina crazy — passed a law prohibiting the DMV from complying with the anti-terrorism law.

I was talking to a reporter the other day about the new Real ID driver’s licenses, and she expressed confusion at why the state was still selling licenses that do not comply with the federal law. Oh, I said, that’s for the black-helicopter people who don’t want the federal government to have a record of them. Suddenly, she could explain the separate but unequal driver’s licenses to her editor.

More than two decades ago, I wrote a news story about a bill introduced by then-Rep. Dan Cooper to demand that the federal government recognize South Carolina’s 10th Amendment rights. Since then, we’ve always greeted each other by inquiring as to who currently has control of the weather satellite. You see, he sponsored the legislation — it was the 1990s version of today’s Convention of the States movement — at the request of a constituent. Whom I called up and talked to. Who told me, among other things, that the United Nations has satellites it uses to control the weather. South Carolina crazy.

But I digress, on a digression that really has nothing to do with highway safety.

So, let’s try a more relevant digression. In 1995, as a reporter, I came across a bill to let people get a driver’s license as long as their vision, with special glasses, was better than 20/200. If you’re not familiar with vision measurements, 20/200 means you can’t read the top line of the eye chart. It means you are legally blind. The bill never passed, but legislators kept trying, for another decade, to allow people to drive with vision of, I guess, 20/199.

Eventually, they gave up. And now we have a law that lets anyone drive without passing any vision test. The Senate needs to pass Rep. Elliott’s bill. Quickly.

Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at cscoppe@thestate.com or (803) 771-8571 or follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook @CindiScoppe.

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