On a frequently played radio commercial, the announcer marvels that his wife, who has always needed glasses for driving, was able to shuck them the day after she had laser surgery and, in fact, drove that very night in a heavy thunderstorm. If you of born-again vision are planning to engage in such instant celebratory driving in the District of Columbia, however, I advise caution. There may be more to operating a car in D.C. without eyeglasses than merely having 20/20 vision, and you're hearing it from the horse's mouth.
When I first applied for a D.C. driver's license, I took the operating test while wearing glasses that my cousin-in-law-the-optometrist had prescribed for me many years before. Without further inquiry into my actual need for vision assistance, the District issued me a permit stating that I was required to wear "proper glasses" while driving.
Some four years later, while driving along and musing about a complicated personal relationship, my reverie was interrupted by a police officer who invited me to join him for a chat at the curb. Examining my driver's license, he noticed that I was not wearing "proper glasses," or indeed any glasses.
The policeman displayed scant interest in (1) the fact that I was only driving a mile or so; (2) the fact that my glasses resided at the ready in my pocket; (3) my belief that my eyesight was really quite good; or (4) the intricacies of my distractingly convoluted relationship. He chose instead to issue a ticket for my failure to wear glasses. His decision, I then felt and even now feel, was unfairly influenced by the essentially extraneous fact that he had stopped me because I was driving the wrong way on a one-way street.
This ticket was not good news. Driving contrary to a permit restriction was a 12-point violation, right up there in terms of gravity with "homicide committed by means of an automobile" and "leaving after colliding (with personal injury)." With a 12-point violation, one more tiny vehicular faux pas would mean automatic loss of my license for three years. At the time, I really needed wheels for use in resolving the incredibly complex relationship earlier mentioned. So I set about to fight the ticket.
I had an ophthalmologist check my eyes. He concluded that my uncorrected vision was easily good enough to satisfy the pertinent D. C. regulations and therefore obviated the need to wear glasses when driving. I went to trial a month later and, with the agreement of the prosecutor, introduced in evidence the ophthalmologist's written opinion. The judge was visibly moved by my presentation but felt compelled to find me guilty. I was then brought before a hearing examiner who had discretion to suspend my license. Also kindly disposed, this wise public servant ordered that my license be renewed and even that the glasses restriction be removed.
But the 12 points remained on my record, and I could not chance losing my permit, which, if I haven't made the point quite clear, I deemed absolutely key to unraveling the aforementioned Byzantinely entangled liaison. So I appealed to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, principally arguing that since my eyesight was in fact good enough to qualify me to drive in the District without glasses, the license requirement that I wear "proper glasses" was in this instance, as lawyers might say, nugatory, superfluous and supererogatory (and very nearly unconstitutional).
Among the papers in my file on this case, I find a page of notes that I had begun writing in my office in preparation for the oral argument to the court, listing all the supporting reasons why, for the love of humanity, I should be let off the hook: I was only traveling a short distance when nabbed; my fine lifetime driving record (only two moving violations and no accidents in my entire automotive career -- incredible!); and other similarly compelling -- albeit wholly irrelevant -- grace notes. A friend who came looking for me when I had briefly left the office spotted my scribblings and added some suggested arguments of his own:
"Really don't need glasses -- cheated on eye exam to stay out of Army.
"Drive fast -- nothing is ever far away for long, so glasses don't help.
"Very rarely drive -- my 13-year-old sister drives me to work every day."
In retrospect, I guess I wouldn't have lost anything if I had actually used these whimsies to soften up the honorable court. Although the judges were eminently polite during the oral argument and entirely respectful in their written decision, they told me, most cordially, to hit the road (wearing glasses if my license should so require). They felt that no matter how good my vision was, I was obliged to keep wearing glasses until the District formally removed the license restriction. My contention that I could have technically complied with the "proper glasses" condition by simply wearing lenses with no prescription at all, and wouldn't that have been silly, apparently did not seem so silly to the court.
So I lost the case, but I also eventually lost the 12 points from my record, and I've been clean ever since. As a penitent ex-con, however, it is fitting that I bring the court's ruling to the attention of those formerly nearsighted D. C. drivers who, post-laser, might be tempted to just pitch their spectacles and take off down the highway, license restriction be damned.
I wouldn't try it. Ries v. District of Columbia is still the law. You could look it up.