Calls for regular driver eye tests as poor vision sidelines thousands

Eye tests

More drivers than ever are being banned for poor vision after roadside eye tests

Have you ever had your eyesight tested? If the answer’s no, you’re not alone. New research by optician Vision Express has revealed one in six drivers has never had an eye test. And more than three quarters (78 per cent) screened at a special event were overdue an eye exam.

It comes as new figures show the number of drivers failing roadside eye tests has rocketed over the past decade. It’s prompted calls for drivers to have their eyesight checked every two years. Some even want eye tests to be made compulsory for drivers.

How many drivers have failed eye tests?

The Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency has confirmed that between 2012 and 2016, 42,519 car and motorcycle licences were revoked because drivers had failed roadside eyesight tests. The DVLA also revealed that a further 6739 bus and lorry drivers had lost their permit to drive. There were 9092 car and motorcycle drivers who lost their licence in 2016. This is a 30 per cent increase compared to 2012. The number of bus and lorry drivers banned was up by 45 per cent from 2012 to 2016. In 2006, the total number of licences revoked at the roadside for poor eyesight was just 1597.

Why is this number going up?

The DVLA says that no single factor is responsible for the increase. However, in 2013 the government did bring in new minimum medical requirements for drivers. In the same year, drivers could lose their licence because of poor eyesight more quickly. Before 2013, drivers who failed a roadside eyesight test wouldn’t lose their licence immediately. Once the test had been conducted, police had to post the results to the DVLA who would then notify the driver that they were banned. In between the test and receiving DVLA notification, the car owner could keep driving. That was changed so eyesight test results could be emailed to the DVLA meaning drivers lose their licences more quickly.

What the experts say

Should have gone to… Thousands of drivers lose their licence for poor eyesight after roadside checks every year

The CEO of Vision Express, Jonathan Lawson, said: “An estimated 2900 casualties are caused by poor driver vision each year in the UK.” Road safety charity Brake added that crashes caused by poor eyesight cost the UK £33m a year.

The Association of Optometrists (AOP) wants bi-annual testing for all drivers. The AOP’s clinical adviser Trevor Warburton told Optometry Today: “In the UK, there is currently no requirement for drivers to have regular sight tests. We believe that compulsory vision screening for all motorists would help ensure drivers’ vision meets the required standards, significantly reducing the risk of someone having an accident due to their poor vision.”

Road safety charity Brake claimed: “Drivers with visual field defects have double the incidence of road crashes and traffic violations compared to drivers with a full visual field, and almost half of people with visual field loss are unaware of the problem.”

What are current eyesight guidelines?

In 2013, the law was changed to ensure drivers or motorcyclists, wearing prescribed glasses or contact lenses, could:

  • Read a regular car number plate on a post-2001 vehicle from 20 metres
  • Have visual acuity of Snellen 6/12. This means they can read something from six metres away that someone with perfect vision can read from 12 metres distance.
  • Have a horizontal field of vision of 120 degrees. That’s 60 degrees to the left and right when looking straight ahead.

Drivers who don’t conform to these guidelines must tell the DVLA as they’re not supposed to drive.

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