With over double the cars on the road in the last 20 years surely eysight requirements have to change
David Williams of The Telegraph writes….
At 70mph in the centre lane of a motorway, I suddenly notice that something is wrong. It’s like peering through mist as I squint at what might be a row of cones, or perhaps road-works, 300 yards ahead. Too late I realise it’s a slow-moving queue of traffic and, before I have time to react, one of the vehicles veers out in front. I yank the steering wheel of the Honda Civic and swerve into the outside lane. No damage done, but it’s a shocking near miss.
“Test drive over,” I’m told. “Bring the car to a gradual halt.” Fortunately this isn’t for real, although my thumping heart tells me otherwise. I have been “driving” a simulator at the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) in Berkshire.
Thirty minutes earlier it seemed easy as I drove along the same motorway without mishap. On this second trip, however, my usual 20/20 vision has been “corrected” to the legal minimum (the level at which Britain’s 31 million drivers are allowed to drive, the standard required during the basic L-test eyesight test) by an optometrist, using eye examination lenses. I now feel as though I’m driving half-blind and my confidence has plummeted. It’s harder to stay in lane, harder to tell what’s going on ahead – and leads to that high-speed incident.
In the third test my eyesight is further adjusted to just below the legal minimum to simulate the vision experienced by untold numbers of motorists who either don’t bother to wear glasses or lenses, or who simply don’t realise how much their eyesight has diminished over the years.
The effect is alarming. The mist I found so disconcerting earlier has turned to fog, roadside signs are far harder to read and looming queues of traffic even harder to spot. A blue hatchback swerves in front and a glancing blow sends me ricocheting into the outside lane. It’s a relief as I switch off.
Computer analysis shows that with each degradation of my eyesight my ability to remain in lane has deteriorated and my reactions have slowed. I’m driving too close to vehicles ahead, dramatically reducing my chances of reacting to hazards in time. Just like thousands of other motorists, every day. A new Direct Line survey reveals that millions routinely drive with bad eyesight, putting themselves at risk of exactly the same kind of incident I’ve just experienced. The survey of 2,003 adults found that 13.3 million UK motorists risk their lives and those of other road users by driving with poor eyesight as a result of not wearing their glasses or contact lenses. A fifth admitted to always driving without them.
Direct Line’s study found that 16 per cent of drivers have had an accident in the past two years, increasing to 67 per cent for those who needed glasses or contact lenses but didn’t wear them. Meanwhile, 37 per cent admitted to not having had a vision test in the past two years or more. Regular sight testing should be compulsory for all motorists Under the rules, L-test candidates must be able to read a number plate at 65ft (20 metres), with spectacles or lenses if needed, before taking the driving test. Drivers should meet this standard as long as they hold a licence but, it seems, thousands don’t. Even when they reach 70, drivers re-applying for a licence need only tick a box confirming that their vision is up to standard.
Department for Transport figures reveal that 260 accidents in 2014 were caused by uncorrected, defective eyesight, nine of which were fatal, 56 serious and 195 slight – evidence that is now prompting demands for a review of the vision check ahead of the driving test, and demands for follow-up, periodic eyesight tests as drivers age. DfT figures reveal that only 529 test candidates failed the eyesight test in 2015-16.
Henry Leonard, clinical and regulatory officer for the Association of Optometrists, who oversaw my experiment at TRL, said: “It’s worrying. There is no re- quirement for drivers to have regular sight tests; a 17-year-old who can read a number plate when they take their driving test may continue driving for the rest of their life with no further checks. “Roadside tests have shown that many drivers subsequently fall below the required standard as their eyesight changes over time, often without
realising. Regular sight testing should be compulsory for all motorists.” Philip Gomm of the RAC Foundation said: “We subject our cars to yearly MoT checks, so why take less care about our own bodies given that human factors account for most accidents? The best evidence is that drivers should have a vision check at least every five years, increasing to every two years after the age of 60.” Road safety charity Brake agrees, describing the current test as “a throwback to the Sixties” and not fit for purpose. It believes 2,900 casualties each year are caused by drivers with poor vision. A Brake spokesman said: “It fails to measure for visual acuity and visual field, and allows people to drive with eyesight that makes them unsafe. We need the Government to make it compulsory for drivers to prove a recent professional eyesight test when renewing their licence. Every 10 years for the general population and every three years for those over the age of 70. Gus Park, commercial director of motor insurance at Direct Line, said: “This research shows just how dangerous it can be to drive without good or corrected eyesight. The driving eyesight check [ahead of the driving test] is a moment in time and, for many drivers, the only sight test they have had in more than 20 years. We would encourage a review into vision-testing to ensure the safety of all road users.”
The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, however, defends the test, claiming it is “simple and effective and can be reproduced by motorists to check whether they meet the standards themselves, as well as by police at the roadside”. A DVSA spokesman said: “Mandatory eyesight tests would put the majority of drivers, who already ensure they can meet the legal eyesight standards, to considerable inconvenience and expense.
“All drivers are required by law to meet the appropriate eyesight standard. Failing to do so is an offence.”
Edmund King, president of the AA, however, remains unconvinced. “It’s time to look at whether the eye test is still indeed adequate,” he said. “Certainly, we should ask; is there a more modern way of testing it than looking at a number plate? That hasn’t changed for years. If it makes the roads safer, it would be worth it.”