It goes without saying that a driver with poor eyesight is a risk to themselves and others behind the wheel. That's why all states require vision tests for those applying for drivers' licenses. Under Wisconsin state law, drivers must pass a vision test when first applying for a license with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and must take the test again when they renew their licenses. Anyone applying for a license in Wisconsin or renewing a license would do well to get an overview of the state's rules about driving license eye tests.
Applying for a Wisconsin License
Wisconsin offers both a regular driver license (Class D) and a commercial driver license (Class A, B or C). A commercial license is required for anyone who drives commercial motor vehicles, including those with an actual gross weight or registered weight of over 26,000 pounds and those intended to carry eight or more people. A Class A, B or C commercial license may be required depending on the class of commercial motor vehicle (CMV) the driver intends to operate.
To obtain a driver's license in Wisconsin, the Department of Transportation requires that an applicant take a knowledge test, a driving test and a vision test. The tests required for the commercial licenses are different from those given to applicants for regular driving privileges. Even the eye test for commercial licenses is different and more stringent.
Regular License Eye Standards
According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, drivers applying for a normal operator's license are required to take and pass an eye test that measures the level of detail the applicant can see clearly, as well as their distance vision and peripheral vision. These standards can be met with corrective lenses, either eyeglasses or contact lenses. The applicant must demonstrate 20/40 in both eyes and a 70-degree field of vision, measured from the middle of each eye.
Anyone who is not able to pass this test is referred by the DMV to a vision specialist who determines whether the person has vision good enough to drive safely. The specialist may recommend a complete driving evaluation, in which case the applicant must show at least 20/100 vision or better in one eye and 20-degree field of vision from center in at least one eye.
Restricted Licenses in Wisconsin
A license can be restricted, for example allowing the driver to get behind the wheel only during the daytime or limiting the routes the driver can travel. Anyone requiring eyeglasses or contacts will have a license requiring them to use corrective lenses.
Regular License Renewal
Drivers with Class D (regular) driver licenses must renew their state driver license in Wisconsin every eight years. At that time, they must retake and once again pass the same vision test that they were given at the time of the initial application.
What happens if the driver is facing deteriorating vision as a result of eye issues that are known to get worse over time? This is the case for individuals who suffer from eye problems or medical conditions like cataracts or glaucoma. The DMV requires these drivers to submit to periodic vision exams to prove that the drivers are still able to see well enough to drive safely.
They must also submit vision reports before coming in to renew their driver's licenses. The reports are reviewed by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation medical staff who determine when updated vision reports will be necessary.
Commercial License Vision Requirements
The vision requirements for drivers of commercial motor vehicles in Wisconsin vary depending on whether they are required to hold a valid federal medical card. If so, they must meet federal vision standards. Those who are exempt from that requirement under state or federal law or who are "grandfathered" must meet state standards.
Under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations, anyone seeking a commercial driver license must pass a federal medical examination within two years of the application. This applies only to those drivers in commerce, not to bus drivers. Drivers in commerce have to meet federal vision standards of 20/40 vision in both eyes, 70-degree field of vision from the center of each eye, and the ability to distinguish traffic signal colors.
Some commercial drivers, such as those holding a commercial license in Wisconsin before the FMCSA regulation was passed, are said to be grandfathered. Grandfathered drivers, as well as commercial drivers who are exempt from these regulations under state or federal law, are held to the state vision standard, not the federal vision standard. The Wisconsin commercial driver vision standard is 20/60 vision or better in at least one eye and 70-degree field of vision from center in at least one eye.
School Bus Driver Vision Standards
School bus drivers are subject to a separate Wisconsin vision standard. To get this class of commercial license in Wisconsin, the applicant must show visual acuity of 20/40 or better in each eye, a 70-degree field of vision from the center of each eye, and the ability to distinguish traffic signal colors.
Proving Vision Acuity for Driver Licensing
Both Wisconsin residents applying for driver licenses, as well as those renewing driver licenses, must prove vision acuity. Those renewing a Wisconsin driver license can get a free vision test at the DMV office where they make their application, just like those applying for their first Wisconsin licenses.
However, those renewing driver licenses have another option. They can opt to have the vision examination done by their own eye doctor or optometrist. That doctor must set out the results of the eye exam on the person's Wisconsin Driver License Application Form MV3001. If a driver opts to renew using their own eye doctor, they should get the vision screening within 90 days of the date they submit their driver license renewal application.
- Wisconsin Department of Transportation: Driver License Vision Standards
- Wisconsin Optimetric Association: Wisconsin Drivers Vision Information
- Wisconsin Department of Transportation: Commercial Driver License Manual
- DMV: Wisconsin Frequently Asked Questions
- Wisconsin DOT: Wisconsin Driver License Application Form MV3001
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.