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Steve Lopez: Heard about the blind man who got a driver's license?

October 31, 2012 |  9:23 am

Mark OverlandAttorney Mark Overland, 72, is legally blind.

So he was a bit surprised when the Department of Motor Vehicles issued him a new license last month, even after he disclosed the visual impairment that has taken away 94% of his vision. He also didn't take a driving test as required.

TalkbackAs The Times' Steve Lopez writes:

Overland gave up driving 15 years ago because of his deteriorating vision. But he kept renewing his license by mail for the sake of having a valid ID. Five years ago, when he got a license renewal form, he noticed a portion that asked if he had any visual impairment that would affect his driving.

"I checked off 'yes.'"

The next line asked what that might be, and Overland wrote "retinitis pigmentosa." That's a progressive condition in which peripheral vision is lost. Overland has a narrow tunnel of vision, and can see pretty well within that field. But anything to the right or left, up or down, is lost to him. He was more than a little surprised then to get his license in the mail a couple of weeks later.

When Overland got his latest renewal notice a month ago, it instructed him to go to a DMV office for a written test and eye exam. He was curious to see what would happen if he didn't mention his disability, so he went to the DMV on Colorado Avenue in Santa Monica, with his daughter Courtney doing the driving. Overland thought briefly about entering the office with his white cane, but decided against it, and Courtney instead served as his guide.

At the DMV, Overland was able to read most of the letters on an eye chart on a back wall and passed another eye test where he peered into a machine — but he initially couldn't see either chart because they weren't in his line of vision. After acing a written test, his new license arrived in the mail two weeks later.

The DMV couldn't say why Overland wasn't ordered to take a driving test five years ago when he notified the agency of his condition — spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez said anyone with retinitis pigmentosa is required to take a driving test. But, Gonzalez said, in 2011, nearly 41,000 people were required to prove their ability to drive after concerns about their driving were reported. More than 38,000 of those people had their licenses suspended or revoked.

Lopez:

When Overland first told me about his adventure, he said he didn't want anyone at the DMV to lose a job over this. But he felt like it was worth speaking up.

"I have concluded that changes need to be made in the DMV vision testing process," he said with graceful understatement.

Do you agree? Should the DMV reevaluate its policies for unsafe drivers? Share your views below.

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Photo: Mark Overland gave up driving 15 years ago because of his deteriorating vision, but the DMV continued to renew his license. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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