CHEYENNE — Three words in state statute — “a vision test” — caused issues for the Wyoming Department of Transportation in the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring.

Misty Dobson, program director of driver services at WYDOT, said state statute mandates a vision test as a requirement for receiving and renewing a driver’s license. But, in spring 2020, many drivers were reluctant to get a test, and many eye doctors were closed to non-emergency procedures.

“People did not want to come to our exam stations,” Dobson said during a Feb. 2 meeting of the Wyoming Legislature’s House Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee. “They did not want to put their faces in our machines. They were not able to get into an eye doctor at that time.”

Nearly a year later, most Wyoming residents are again comfortable taking their vision test, Dobson said. But the department’s experience in the early pandemic has inspired them to support a piece of legislation — House Bill 20 — that would provide the department with more flexibility in enforcing the vision test requirement.

 “Our goal here is to just add the flexibility to adjust with upcoming technologies as well as be able to make any changes in the event we run into the same situation we ran into back in March,” Dobson said.

Currently, the vision test is required in state statute, Dobson said. If the bill is approved, the statute will say that drivers need to complete a visual acuity test, but how the test is conducted will be outlined in WYDOT rules and regulations.

The move from statute to rules and regulations simply makes it easier to change the testing requirements in emergency situations or as vision acuity technology evolves, WYDOT support services administrator Taylor Rossetti said.

“The intent here is not to get away from that current process,” Rossetti said. “It simply moves the specificity sitting over in the statute over to rules and regulations so that, if technology changes, it does not require a future statute change or if another emergency were to arise, you could promulgate an emergency rule to get around what might be a restrictive requirement… That’s all we’re trying to achieve here.”

Currently, the state requires drivers to have 20/40 vision or better with both eyes and a total combined horizontal vision of at least 120 degrees. Rossetti said those standards would continue if the bill is passed.

Kari Cline, executive director of the Wyoming Optometric Association, expressed support for the bill and for the department’s ability to be flexible in extraordinary times. However, she emphasized the importance of continuing to enforce current vision requirements for drivers.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the Department of Transportation through the rulemaking process to ensure the current requirements that have been carefully and thoughtfully determined through previous collaborations will remain in any new rules that are promulgated,” Cline said.

The visual acuity bill has been placed on general file in the House and is awaiting first reading.

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