Kentucky's record is not the best when it comes to highway safety laws.
A generation ago the General Assembly repealed a law requiring motorcycle riders to wear helmets. It did so despite statistics showing the change would not merely increase fatalities; it would also raise insurance premiums and Medicaid costs due to the expense of caring for people permanently impaired by preventable head injuries.
A majority of legislators dismissed those objections, opining it is a matter of personal freedom.
Agree or not, it is a far different matter when people take risks that endanger the lives of others. And it is irresponsible when the state makes it easy for them to do so. It is unfortunate that it often takes tragedy to bring attention to such matters.
Such is the case with Kentucky's feckless requirements for vision testing of drivers. As an article in Sunday's Paducah Sun reported, most Kentuckians are given a rudimentary vision test when they apply for their driver's permit, and never face another one in a lifetime of license renewals.
The issue came to the forefront with the recent death of former McCracken County Judge-Executive Van Newberry in a bicycling accident. Authorities recently charged a Paducah businessman with manslaughter in the case.
That and other charges came after an investigation determined the 68-year-old driver of the SUV that struck Newberry had profound vision problems and had been advised by his health care providers not to drive. Police discovered the man had been involved in numerous collisions over the years, including one that killed Paducah civic leader Oscar Cross, although the driver was not at fault in that accident.
Obviously we will leave it to the courts to determine the merits of those charges. But the case has led many to question a license renewal system that makes no attempt to account for the fact that many if not most drivers develop vision problems as they age.
Most of us see examples every day. Older drivers who either ease their way out in front of closely approaching traffic or stop 20 yards behind the car ahead because they lack depth perception are perhaps the most common examples.
As a general rule we prefer fewer and not more regulations. But that's not to say regulations don't have a place. Requiring drivers to demonstrate that they have sufficient visual acuity to safely operate a car or truck is hardly unreasonable. And it is neither difficult nor inordinately expensive to have a person at the clerk's office qualified to conduct a basic test.
At minimum we think such a test should be required after a certain age. Missouri conducts an eye test each time a license is renewed regardless of the applicant's age. Illinois does likewise for anyone who does not have a clean driving record. Illinois also has graduated road test requirements for drivers 75 and older to renew their licenses.
Families know well the difficulty involved in getting a loved one to give up driving because age or disability makes it unsafe for them to continue. That is precisely the reason the state should intervene and make a dispassionate determination on a fundamental safety requirement such as vision.
Not only is Kentucky behind the times; the demographics of the aging Baby Boom generation assure the danger will grow in the future. Vision testing needs to become a requirement of driver's license renewal in Kentucky.