Iris Network Testimony in Support of L.D. 564

March 6, 2013

Senator Edward J. Mazurek, Representative Charles Kenneth Theriault and Members of the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation 126 Maine State Legislature

Maine Statehouse, Room 126

Augusta, Maine 04333

Re:       Iris Network Testimony in Support of L.D. 564

Dear Chairmen Mazurek and Theriault and Members of the Transportation Committee:

The Iris Network is Maine's statewide vision rehabilitation provider. We employ nationally certified vision rehabilitation, orientation & mobility, low vision and employment professionals who provide primary vision rehabilitation and job training to people experiencing difficulty with their vision including low vision and legal blindness. Most of our clients have some degree of useful vision.

For many people, the threshold between poor eyesight and low vision is the point at which they no longer qualify for a driver's license. Unfortunately, in Maine, this threshold is higher than it is in 39 other states where some drivers with low vision may qualify for a license to drive if they have been trained to use bioptic glasses.

Bioptic glasses involve a small lens fitted at the top of one or both of the regular prescription lenses. A glance through the bioptic allows the driver to momentarily attain 20/40 visual acuity or better in a narrow segment of the visual field while allowing the driver to rely on his or her vision at a somewhat lower acuity in the remaining visual field to accomplish most of the visual tasks required for driving. Thirty-nine other states have determined that bioptic glasses are a reasonable accommodation for people who receive appropriate training and who have a good field of vision with moderate vision loss.

The Iris Network supports L.D. 564 because we believe that accommodating certain qualified drivers with low vision on a case-by-case basis by allowing them to use bioptic glasses after receiving appropriate training will promote more rigorous eye testing for all drivers and make Maine's roads safer. That is, in our experience, many people dealing with vision loss have been reluctant to have their vision tested because they are afraid of losing their driver's licenses and, therefore, they remain on the road beyond the time that is safe or legal. If bioptic driving were permitted in Maine, this could represent an alternative to loss of licensure for some drivers with low vision and present many opportunities to educate the public about driving safely with low vision.

Drivers from states that allow bioptic driving are already driving on Maine's roads. Allowing qualified Maine residents with low vision to use bioptic glasses to test for a Maine driver's license with appropriate restrictions will provide them with similar access to the public highways that their peers in other states already enjoy. Given Maine's lack of public transportation, access to the highway system is crucial for some people dealing with moderate degrees of vision loss in order to retain their jobs and maintain their independence. We are aware of situations where Maine residents with low vision have moved to states that allow bioptic driving in order to maintain their livelihoods and quality of life.

Not all people with low vision will qualify as bioptic drivers. This legislation merely gives the Secretary of State the opportunity to craft reasonable regulations concerning the types of drivers for whom driving with bioptic glasses is safe and the restrictions appropriate for these drivers. Maine's existing driver licensing rules have criteria to limit driver's licenses to those with the physical ability to drive safely. Visual acuity should not substitute for a determination of whether drivers have the necessary mental and physical reflexes to drive safely.

The Iris Network is available to assist the Secretary of State to draft reasonable regulations to define the circumstances and appropriate restrictions under which bioptic driving is appropriate in order to promote improved public safety on Maine roads. We welcome the opportunity to assist the Secretary of State to design appropriate regulations including all relevant driving factors for each individual applicant on a case­by-case basis including age, driving record, mental agility and concentration, progressive nature of eye condition, performance in a bioptic driving training program and performance on supervised road-tests.

In closing, I urge you to authorize the Secretary of State to make appropriate rules by which Maine will become the 40th state to allow the use of bioptic glasses for the purpose of meeting the visual acuity requirements for driving. This will both make our roads safer, and provide qualifying drivers with the ability to maintain independence and community integration.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide this testimony. Members of The Iris Network staff are available to answer your questions now, or during your Work Session.

Respectfully submitted,

James E. Phipps
President and Executive Director

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