Brake calls for compulsory eye test for drivers

Brake, the road safety charity, is calling on the government to introduce compulsory regular eyesight testing for drivers, as a survey with Specsavers and RSA Insurance Group shows strong public support. Almost nine in 10 (87 per cent) are in favour of drivers having to prove they have had a recent sight test every 10 years, when they renew their licence or photo card. Research indicates this change in the law would significantly reduce the estimated 2,900 casualties caused by poor driver vision each year.

The survey shows why government action is needed, with a quarter (25 per cent) of drivers admitting they have not had their eyes tested in more than two years – despite research showing you can lose up to 40 per cent of your vision before noticing the difference.

Many drivers are also failing to respond to warning signs in regards to their vision: one in five (19 per cent) have put off visiting the optician when they noticed a problem. In addition, a shocking one in eight drivers (12 per cent) who know they need glasses or lenses to drive have done so without them in the past year.

Brake, Specsavers and RSA’s survey of drivers also found:

• More than 1.5 million UK drivers (4 per cent) have never had their eyes tested;
• One in eight (12 per cent) have not had their eyes tested for more than five years; and
• Of the 54 per cent of UK drivers who believe they don’t need glasses or lenses to drive, one third (33 per cent) have no way of knowing this for sure, having not had an eyesight test in over two years.

The only measure currently in place to ensure driver vision satisfies minimum legal standards is the number-plate test carried out from 20 metres away before driving tests, and occasionally at the roadside if police suspect an eyesight problem. This does not test visual field or contrast sensitivity, both of which are important to safe driving, nor is it a totally accurate measure of visual acuity (vision over distance).

Following their driving test, a driver may never need to produce any further evidence that they can see well enough to drive. It is estimated up to five million UK drivers would fail a number-plate test if they had to take it again.

Calls for drivers to check their vision is ‘up to scratch’

Brake is urging the government to introduce a requirement for drivers to prove a recent, professional eye test when applying for a provisional licence, and at least every 10 years thereafter. It’s estimated this would save the public purse at least £6.7 million a year by preventing crashes. Brake urges all drivers to make sure their vision is up to scratch by having a professional sight test at least every two years, following expert advice, and always wearing glasses or lenses if they need them.

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake, said: “Compulsory regular eyesight testing for drivers is a common sense, lifesaving move. Clearly the public agrees that the government needs to act to tackle the alarming number of drivers taking a lax approach to their eyes. Making sure your vision is up to scratch is crucial to safe driving, and though it may seem there are plenty of excuses to put off going to the opticians, none is good enough when it comes to putting people’s lives at risk. If you drive, it’s not just your own health you are jeopardising by neglecting your eyesight, but the lives of those around you. That’s why it’s vital for drivers to get their eyes professionally checked at least every two years – eyesight can deteriorate rapidly without you noticing.”

Mark Christer, Managing Director of Personal Insurance at RSA, said: “We want far more rigorous checks that drivers’ eyesight meets the minimum standards. The UK’s ‘number-plate test’ is a relic of the 1930s and it’s no wonder so many other EU countries have introduced more modern testing. It is time we did too.
“Put simply, if you’re not sure whether you are fit to drive, you could be seriously endangering yourself and other road users. The limitations of our current system mean many people could be doing just that without even knowing it.”

Dr Nigel Best, Specsavers’ clinical spokesperson, said: “The stats are quite alarming, it’s important that we all recognise the importance of regular eye examinations and the role that they play in keeping both drivers and pedestrians safe on the roads. Currently eye sight is only tested once, on the day of the driving test. It is then the driver’s responsibility to check whether their vision remains above the legal standard. Because eyesight deteriorates gradually over time, the only way a driver can be 100 per cent certain that they remain both legal and safe is to have regular eye examinations.” pg

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