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Drivers with poor eyesight want extension on privileges

February 21, 2002

Drivers with poor eyesight want extension on privileges



Annapolis

By LAURA ERNDE
laurae@herald-mail.com


Ever since people with poor eyesight won the right to drive in Maryland five years ago, crash records show their accident rate is no higher than that of drivers with normal vision.

Now, the General Assembly is being asked to permanently extend driving privileges to some people with low vision.

The Hagerstown woman who began her quest for the law 10 years ago told members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee how much it has meant to her son.

Todd Divelbliss, now 31, suffers from a rare eye problem that can't be corrected with glasses, Shirley Divelbliss said.

He was able to get a special license after taking the rigorous driving test required by the law, she said.

"It has made him very independent," she said.

Her son's eyesight has since improved and he no longer needs the special license, she said.

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Divelbliss took the day off from her job at a commercial trucking company in Hagerstown to testify on behalf of the bill, which is once again sponsored by Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

"I felt there was no giving up on something that important to my son and others," she said.

The Motor Vehicle Administration said it studied the driving records of 3,205 people with vision of between 20/40 and 20/70 and found no difference in crash data compared to drivers with normal vision.

A person with 20/70 vision would stand at 20 feet to see the same view a normal person sees at 70 feet. A person is legally blind at 20/200.

Munson's bill would remove the Sept. 30, 2002 expiration date for the original law.

It also would extend for two years the sunset on a separate part of the law that grants daytime-only driving privileges to people with vision of between 20/70 and 20/100.

Since only 75 people have qualified for the restricted driver's license, there isn't enough data to determine whether it should become a permanent state policy, according to the MVA.

But so far the agency, which closely monitors those drivers, has not noticed an increased crash risk.

The legislation has the backing of a key ally, Committee Chairman Sen. Walter Baker, D-Eastern Shore.

"I intend to support it," he said.

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