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Motorists with poor vision still on the road prompts call for mandatory testing

Motorists with poor vision still on the road prompts call for mandatory testing

Almost half (44%) of optometrists in the UK have seen a patient in the last month who has continued to drive despite being told their vision was below the legal standard, a report by the Association of Optometrists (AOP) has revealed.

The findings come as pressure mounts on the government to change the law on vision requirements for motorists, following a series of high-profile road crash cases in which poor eyesight was a contributing factor.

Under existing UK law, drivers must undergo an initial number plate test when taking a driving test, then complete a self-declaration for renewing their licence thereafter. That means a 17-year-old who can read a number plate from 20 metres away when they take their test, may continue to drive with no further checks for the rest of their life.

The AOP says those laws were among the most lax in Europe and is calling for a change to the law that would require drivers to have a comprehensive vision check to prove their eyesight met the legal standard when they first applied for a licence and then every 10 years thereafter, or more frequently after the age of 70.

The AOP’s ‘Don’t Swerve a Sight Test Campaign’ also reminds drivers that undergoing a sight test every two years was currently the best way to maximise their eye health and make sure they were road safe. Currently, an estimated 2,900 injuries on the roads each year are caused by drivers with poor vision.

Gillian Jones, whose father, Ambrose Skingle, was killed by a driver with vision below the legal standard for driving, said: “I have two sons and my father was a big part of their lives. Dad taught them how to ride bikes and play golf. We had a family dinner together every Sunday. Life has never been the same. It was as if centre of our lives had been ripped out.

“I know some people don’t want to have a sight test because they don’t want the bad news that they have to stop driving. I’d like them to think of the consequences, both to themselves and to others. I think most people would feel awful knowing they were responsible for taking a life. Drivers have got to look at the bigger picture.”

As part of the AOP’s second ‘Don’t Swerve a Sight Test Campaign’, which falls ahead of Road Safety Week (19-25 November), 2,000 members of the public including 1,300 regular motorists were also surveyed by the AOP to capture public mood. The survey showed that:
  • Around half (47%) the public agreed the laws on vision for driving should be more rigorous - compared to just 4% who believed they needed to be relaxed
  • Of those who wanted more rigorous laws, half (49%) believed a compulsory sight test should be part of a licence being granted and a quarter (26%) wanted motorists to have a sight test at least every 10 years
  • Nearly nine in 10 (86%) of regular drivers would be happy to have their vision checked every five years or more frequently
  • However, one in 20 (6%) motorists on the UK’s roads admitted they had doubted whether their own vision was good enough to drive yet had done nothing about it
  • Nearly a fifth (17%) of regular drivers admitted they had never self-checked their own vision by reading a number plate as suggested by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency’s recommendations
  • Shockingly, one in 10 (12%) regular motorists would continue driving as normal if told their vision could not be corrected to meet the legal standard, while 42% would continue to drive in some capacity, such as cutting back on short journeys or only driving locally
  • A quarter (27%) of the public would do nothing if they knew a friend or family member who continued to drive with poor eyesight.

Optometrist and AOP professional advisor Henry Leonard said: “It is shocking that so many drivers are overlooking the importance of good vision. Sight loss can often be gradual, and people may not notice changes that could affect their ability to drive.

“This campaign is about reminding drivers that regular visits to their optometrist are the best way to make sure they meet the legal standard for driving and help make our roads safer.”