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Should eye tests be compulsory for drivers?

Jun 26, 2018

One of the most obvious pre-requisites for driving safely is having good vision, however one in three optometrists report seeing patients who continue to drive despite their eye sight being below the required standard. This has resulted in recent calls from the Association of Optometrists (AOP) for drivers to take compulsory eye tests every 10 years.

The current rules (as of 2017) put the onus on the individual driver – making them responsible for informing the DVLA of changes to their eyesight, with the only formal check being carried out at the start of driving tests. This test requires people to demonstrate their ability to read a car number plate at a distance of 20 metres. A test which the AOP criticises for its unscientific nature. In fact, only professional drivers, such as HGV or bus drivers, are required to have routine sight tests as part of their licence renewals and it isn’t until the age of 70 that drivers are required to confirm thy are fit to drive as part of more frequent licence renewals.

So is this self-reporting system good enough? Isolating the root cause of an accident to sight problems is difficult but the Department for Transport crash reporting figures for 2016 suggest 7 people were killed and 63 seriously injured in accidents where ‘uncorrected, defective eyesight’ was a contributing factor. However, it is likely that this figure is underreported given that sight tests after an accident are not compulsory. Likewise, it is thought that many people are not aware of the standard of vision required for driving or their responsibility to self-report changes in their vision to the DVLA, leading many Optometrists to suggest that the current rules are out dated.
This is why there have been recent calls from the AOP for drivers to have compulsory vision screening upon application for an initial driving licence and then every 10 years after this, with those failing initial screenings being required to attend follow up testing.

However, even if these changes were put in place it wouldn’t change the fact that final responsibility lies with the driver – in the same way that drivers are responsible for vehicle maintenance and ensuring adequate insurance is in place they ultimately need to be sure that they are fit to get behind the wheel of a vehicle.

If you manage a fleet of drivers, ensure they are all aware of the rules around eye sight and self-reporting of any changes to their vision.

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