Jerry Kopel

Imagine this headline and news story in the year 2013:

Nearly-blind Denver

Driver Strikes, Injures

Girls Ages 4 and 6

"John Doe, age 61, driving with impaired vision, injured two young girls, striking them with his car at 6th and Steele. Doe, who last had an eye exam to obtain a driver's license in September of 2001, does not wear glasses and had not been tested for proper vision since 2001.

"In 2001, Doe renewed his driver's license in person for ten years, as permitted under SB 11, passed by the legislature in 2000 under sponsorship of Sen. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo. Springs and Rep. Dorothy Gotlieb, R-Denver.

That law doubled the time a license would be valid, from five years to 10 years for persons 21 to 60. The license could then be renewed by mail at the next time for renewal, good for ten years WITHOUT taking and passing an eye exam. That is what Doe did at age 59 in 2011. His renewal license was good until 2021 when he will be 69.

"Before 2001, everyone renewing a driver's license, whether in person at any county clerk and recorder's office, or by mail, HAD to undergo an eye exam. The exam was either at the clerk's office if renewing in person, or given by a physician or optometrist, if renewed by mail. The report by the doctor or optometrist had to accompany the driver's mail application for renewal. That language was stricken from the law by SB 11.

"Doe, upon being asked by reporters, indicated he had begun having trouble with distance vision the year before he renewed his driver's license at age 59 by mail for another 10 years, but thought he was still competent to drive as long as he drove slowly. At the hospital where Doe was taken with minor injuries, physicians discovered he was suffering from open-angle glaucoma brought on by a diabetic condition, resulting in blind spots and narrowing peripheral vision.

"The two injured children are not in serious danger and are expected to recover."

End of "news" story. Certainly a similar story could have been written about licensing and license renewal under present law, except that the odds of someone driving with impaired vision is doubled under SB 11 (from 10 to 20 years), and the odds are even greater with the lack of an eye test submitted on a mail renewal.

If someone obtains or renews a license at age 61, SB 11 drops the validity of the license back to five years. Part of the present law which permits someone to renew a license by mail and then requires that a succeeding renewal be in person, remains in effect.

There appears to be nothing in the law to deny a person the right to renew a driver's license BEFORE the expiration date. If you will be age 60 on or after July 1, 2001, and your license doesn't expire until 2002, get your renewal soon after July 1, 2001. It will be good until 2011. If you wait until you are 61 in 2002, your license will expire in 2007. You can save four years thanks to the weirdness of SB 11.

There is a conflict between the language striking the need for an eye test on renewal by mail and language remaining in CRS 42-2-118 (1) (a) (I) regarding "passing of an eye test", but I was assured by a staff member of Legal Services that the intent was to remove the eye test requirement on renewal of a license by mail.

The concept of longer periods between renewals of drivers' licenses is probably good news for those county clerks and recorders who are elected. It means fewer waiting lines and fewer irate citizens who might take revenge at the next election. But it's safety-deficient: Is every dog really entitled to one bite?

Most of us continue to use driver's license for identification. A photo 10 years old might not be too out-of-date to allow a ticket agent at the airport to identify it as belonging to you. But a photo 20 years old? Come on!

* * *

Former State Rep. Don Brinton died in early May in El Paso County at age 73. Don was an educator in El Paso County and served in the Army Air Force as a corporal in the Pacific during World War II. He received his master's degree at the University of Iowa in 1951. He and his wife Marilyn had six children, four girls and two boys.

Don Brinton had one of the most unusual legislative careers. He first served in the Democratic controlled House in 1965-66. His second term was in the Democratic controlled House in 1975-76, and he served one more term in 1977-78. Six years in the legislature as a Democrat and four of those years in the majority. No other Democrat who started out in 1965 can match that record.

Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.

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