It is not likely to surprise an applicant for an Arizona driver's license to find that they are required to pass a vision exam in order to qualify for a license. The eye exam is a requirement in every state. It also makes perfect sense for states to require a vision test to grant driving privileges, since a driver who cannot see well is sure to present a danger to themselves and others.
Though all states require eye exams as part of the driver license testing procedure, each state's laws are slightly different. Arizona residents should become familiar with their state's rules and requirements before heading to the Arizona Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) for a license.
Arizona MVD Vision Testing
In Arizona, those getting their first driver's license must take a vision test. This eye exam requirement also applies to those drivers renewing their license. In Arizona, every licensed driver under 65 must renew their license and take another eye test every 12 years.
An Arizona driver who is 65 years of age or older must renew their license every five years and take a vision test at each license renewal. After the age of 70, the driver is not permitted to renew by mail, but must go to the agency in person to renew annually, including taking a vision test.
Basic Driver's License Vision Requirements
The basic rule in Arizona is that to pass the vision test for a driver's license, the individual must have visual acuity of 20/40 or better in one eye. Recall that normal visual acuity is 20/20 in each eye. That number means that, at 20 feet, the individual can see what a normal person can see at 20 feet away on an eye chart. A 20/40 visual acuity means that the individual can see at 20 feet what others see at 40 feet.
In addition to having a visual acuity of 20/40 in one eye, Arizona also requires a driver to pass the field of vision test. This test checks how far the individual can see to each side while their eyes are directed straight ahead. The same eye that tested at 20/40 or better must have a field of vision of 70 degrees to pass the driver test. This includes 35 degrees of vision on the opposite side of the nose as the 20/40 eye.
"B" Restrictions for Glasses or Contact Lens Wearers
If a person takes the vision test and it shows that they do not have at least 20/40 vision in one eye, it does not condemn them to living without an Arizona driver's license. If they wear glasses or contacts, they can take the test wearing them. A person who passes the vision test with either glasses or contacts but not with the naked eye will be issued an Arizona license with a "B" restriction. This means that they can legally drive only if they are wearing glasses or contacts.
Failing the Standard Vision Screening
If the driver cannot pass the vision test with 20/40 in one eye with or without corrective lenses, the MVD sends them to see a vision specialist. The specialist, either an ophthalmologist or an optometrist, does additional testing to see whether the individual's vision can be corrected sufficiently to drive. They then submit a Vision Examination Report to the agency.
This report includes vision acuity information for each eye separately and for both eyes together, with and without correction. It must also note whether nighttime driving restrictions are necessary based on monocular or binocular visual acuity, set a recommendation for periodic vision testing if needed, and include a determination of the person's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle based on vision issues.
Once the form is submitted to the Arizona Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Division. This agency will review the information and recommendations and determine whether a license will be issued.
Other Arizona Driving Restrictions
The Arizona MVD can include other restrictions on a driver's license as well. Some are based on the individual's ability to see well enough to drive at night. If an applicant's vision in one eye (monocular vision) is between 20/40 and 20/50, they can see well enough to drive during the day but not at night. In this case, they may be issued a daytime-only restricted license.
A similar situation occurs if an individual has binocular vision (vision in both eyes) of between 20/40 and 20/70. They also may be restricted to daytime driving. Drivers who have impaired night vision for other reasons may receive a restricted license allowing them to drive only during the daylight hours.
Medical/Vision Issues Notification
Other medical issues can render a person unfit for driving under Arizona state law. Working with the Arizona Medical Advisory Board, the Arizona Department of Transportation (DOT) has set medical standards, as well as vision standards, for driver licensing. This explains the medical condition questions included on an Arizona driver license application.
The person issued a license is under a duty to report any new medical conditions that may affect their ability to drive. They must also report the worsening of any conditions. These conditions must impact their ability to operate a motor vehicle but need not affect their vision. If these issues arise, the driver must notify the Arizona DOT in writing within five days or as soon as possible, given the condition.
The writing should set out the person's identifying information, like name, address, phone number, driver license number and date of birth. It should also provide a complete description of the condition. The document should be sent by mail to the Medical Review Program at Post Office Box 2100, MD 818Z, Phoenix, AZ 85001.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.