Concerns raised over drivers’ vision standards

Concerns have been raised about drivers’ vision standards, following publication of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) report on the consultation on driving licence standards for vision. The Optical Confederation has cautiously welcomed clarification of the new eyesight standards for drivers but is disappointed that the outdated number plate test has been retained, that there is still no requirement for formal vision testing throughout the driving career and that reliance on drivers to self-report relevant disabilities remains.

The Confederation has repeatedly called for tougher and more frequent checks on drivers’ eyesight. Given the importance of being able to drive with good vision – so that drivers do not put themselves and others at risk unnecessarily – the Optical Confederation believes that all drivers should undergo basic screening for distance and side vision, before they get behind the wheel of a car. As changes in vision can occur gradually over a period of time and, as such, a driver may not realise they have a problem with their vision, drivers should also have their vision checked when they renew their licence every ten years. The NHS recommends that adults have their eyes tested every two years yet many drivers fail to look after their eyesight.

Geoff Roberson, on behalf of the Optical Confederation, said: “We welcome having a standard that optometrists can measure and advise on. However, we are concerned that the emphasis remains on the individual to self-report. The profession has been lobbying hard for a change to the notoriously inadequate number-plate test as we desperately need a standard for drivers that is both objective and repeatable. Overall the standards for group one drivers (cars and motorcycles) seem to have been tightened slightly rather than relaxed as the DVLA had initially proposed. Although we welcome some clarification of the new arrangements, there are still many issues to be resolved.”

Ellen Booth, senior campaigns officer for Brake, the road safety charity, said: “Having the ability to see clearly what is in front or around you is absolutely fundamental to safe and responsible driving. It is vital that we have adequate regulation in place to ensure all drivers meet minimum standards, to protect road users and prevent devastating casualties. We need a scientific eyesight test carried out at the start of your driving career and regularly throughout it.”

The DVLA published its report on the 30th May although some changes to standards came into force on the 1st May 2012. The main changes announced car drivers and motorcyclists are:

• Drivers will be required to declare when applying for a licence that they have never been told by an optician or doctor that their vision is below that of the minimum required standard (Snellen 6/12, 0.5 decimal).
• There will be no requirement for ‘an optician’s certificate’ at the driving test or on licence application or renewal.
• The onus will be on the applicant or driver to notify the DVLA if a formal eye test reveals Visual Acuity of less than 6/12 and the licence will then be refused or revoked.
• The current distance at which the number plate test is read will remain unchanged (20m).
• Drivers who fail the number plate test, but meet 6/12 on Snellen testing, will still fail and no ‘exceptional cases’ will be allowed for those failing both tests.

The DVLA notes that information will be provided to drivers, and to the medical and optometry professions, to make clear that a measurement of less than 6/12 is a relevant disability and the driver must notify the DVLA. The Confederation will be issuing full guidance to its members on all the changes, including the new visual field standard for group one drivers and revised visual acuity and vision correction requirements for group two (lorry and bus) drivers.