New calls for improved checks to assess driver eyesight and improve road safety in the UK

Vision Express, a leading UK optometry company, has released new research detailing the results of comprehensive eye tests on over 1,000 UK residents which support its campaign to improve driver testing.

The study found that 1 in 5 UK drivers haven’t had a vision check since passing their driving test.

With this new evidence that the test is a one-time check on the ability of drivers to see adequately, campaigners are redoubling demands on government to make change.

What changes do campaigners want government to implement?

Vision Express is leading the “Eye Tests Save Lives” initiative. The company is working with industry bodies, the Police and road safety charities, including Brake.

Together, they are calling on the government to:

  • introduce a full eyesight test that includes peripheral vision testing for all new drivers
  • introduce a mandatory eye test requirement for all drivers every ten years (it is suggested this would coincide with the renewal of the photo card licence)
  • explore how any eyesight testing regime can check for eyesight deterioration as drivers age
  • spearhead a wider campaign to raise awareness about the importance of good eye health and regular testing for drivers

Why is the Eye Tests Save Lives initiative important?

Government data shows that 3,000 road casualties occur each year as a result of poor driver vision.

However, Vision Express has suggested this may be the tip of the iceberg. At present, driver eyesight testing is not automatically carried out by police at the scene of a fatal or serious crash.

Jay Ghadiali, director of professional services at Vision Express, says: “There is no question that road casualty figures with vision identified as a causal factor are hugely underreported.”

The company’s latest data seems to back this up. It found that 65 percent of drivers surveyed are wearing an incorrect prescription. Furthermore, 52 percent of those tested admitted to not always wearing their prescription glasses or contact lenses while driving.

Optometrist analysis found that 7 percent of those surveyed could be putting their lives and the lives of other road users at risk because their eyesight was either borderline or below the legal standard for driving.

What is the DVLA doing to improve awareness?

Earlier this year, in June 2018, the DVLA announced plans to encourage UK drivers to self-test. When passing the UK driving test would-be drivers are requested to read a vehicle registration plate from 20 metres away. The DVLA suggested that all drivers should regularly check that they can still read a number plate from 20 metres away.

However, campaigners have repeatedly argued that this test is not robust. While welcoming the DVLA’s recommendations, campaigners reiterated the unsuitability of this informal testing process.

“It’s a positive first step to see the DVLA is spearheading a public awareness campaign to encourage drivers to take their eye health seriously – something Vision Express has been campaigning for,” said Jonathan Lawson, CEO at Vision Express. “However, the ‘number plate’ test was introduced over 80 years ago before the Second World War and eye testing has advanced significantly since then. The NHS recommends people should have an eye test every two years, so we would encourage the DVLA to remind drivers that whilst passing the number plate check might be the legal limit, the Government’s own advice is to have a full eye health check with a qualified optometrist.”

Road safety: poor eyesight is putting lives at risk

The DVLA’s own data suggests that half of all UK drivers are unaware of the minimum sight standards needed for a valid driving licence.

Even when made aware of the standards, some drivers are failing to take the potential threat to life seriously. In 2012, an 87-year-old driver was jailed after running over 16-year-old Cassie McCord. The motorist hit Cassie when the car he was driving swerved on to the pavement just three days after he had refused to surrender his licence to police following a separate incident.

Three days prior to the accident that led to Cassie’s death, Colin Horsfall had been involved in a minor accident and was stopped by police. When PC Daniel Bellingham, attending the incident, asked Horsfall to take an on-the-spot eye test the pensioner failed to read the registration plate 20 metres away. However, Horsfall would not give up his driving licence voluntarily despite PC Bellingham’s request.

Responding to risk: drivers must meet minimum standards

The police officer told Horsfall he would be submitting paperwork to the DVLA and advised him not to get behind the wheel again. The incident suggests that as well as regular mandatory testing, the police may well need greater powers to revoke licences temporarily when drivers are shown to have unsafe eyesight.

Road safety charity Brake emphasises that eyesight can decline gradually, and this decline can often go unnoticed. It says that people can lose up to 40 percent of their visual acuity without being aware of the deterioration.

Joshua Harris, director of campaigns at road safety charity Brake said: “We urge the Government to look at updating the existing 20-metre number plate test and implement more stringent measures, ensuring that everyone who drives on our roads has a safe level of vision.”

Making the roads safer for everyone

Same Day Couriers Direct welcomes the initiative from the charity to promote greater safety on our roads.

We look forward to seeing the results of the charity’s latest collaboration with Vision Express and the Police – a roadside trial that stopped more than 1,000 motorists at random in the Thames Valley area, Hampshire and the West Midlands. Drivers were asked to complete the 20-metre eyesight check. Results are expected in the new year and we look with interest to what new insights it will deliver.

Find out more about the Brake campaign:

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