Drivers in Shropshire are being urged to not take any chances when it comes to getting their eyes tested.
The advice follows the launch of the Driving Blind campaign which is petitioning the government to take action to significantly reduce accidents caused by drivers with defective vision.
Nishad Bandali, Optometrist Director at A B Optics in Church Stretton told JT Hughes: “The most common line I hear in my consulting room is I’m OK to drive, I’m sure I can see the number plate.”
“There’s more to a drivers eyesight than simply being able to “read the number plate” at 20.5 metres. The DVLA provides a very basic visual standard for drivers and in most cases it is not difficult to achieve this. In fact, many new test charts have a number plate test which can be used to determine whether the required standard is met or not.”
“However, we must take into account the fact that we won’t be driving in a well lit consulting room identifying high contrast characters at a set distance.
“Drivers require the ability to perceive hazards approaching from all directions. They also require the ability to read road signs and markings as early as possible.”
He added that drivers must also be able to gauge the speed of oncoming and passing traffic. They also need to be able to judge the distances of the cars and obstructions ahead of them as well as in their driving mirrors. In addition, drivers must be able to see in all levels of visibility, from bright glare to low lighting.
Thousands of Casualties a Year
Drivers with defective vision is a behaviour linked to 3,000 casualties at a cost of £33 million in the UK every year.
DVLA figures show that nearly 50,000 motorists had their licence revoked or refused between 2012 and 2016 due to poor eyesight. While a 2014 study by road safety group, Brake, found that 1.5 million UK motorists had never had their eyes tested.
Currently, there is no mandatory eye exam for drivers apart from having to read a number plate at the start of a test.
In it’s manifesto, the national Driving Blind national campaign is calling for new drivers to be vision tested and certified by an optician, with follow-up tests every decade up to the age of 70, and then every three years.
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Support for the Campaign
So far the campaign has gained support from MPs, opticians and community activists.
Road safety organisation GEM Motoring Assist says that better regulation of eyesight tests for drivers would reduce collisions and improve safety on the roads.
The group is calling for drivers to take a compulsory eye test every 10 years.
GEM road safety officer Neil Worth said: “If you can’t see effectively, you shouldn’t be driving, and poor eyesight is linked to more than 3,000 fatal and serious injury collisions every year. There are too many drivers whose eyesight has deteriorated to very dangerous levels.
“In an ideal world, we would want compulsory eyesight tests every two years, particularly for drivers 40 and above. But the most practical measure would be a test of visual acuity and field of view every 10 years, which would fit in with licence renewal, making it practical and enforceable.
“Even DVLA guidelines to medical professionals state that eyesight can decline gradually and unnoticed, with people losing up to 40 per cent of their visual acuity without being aware of deterioration.”
GEM believes that regular mandatory eyesight tests for drivers would offer more than just a simple and effective way of reducing collisions caused by defective vision.
“Compulsory eyesight tests would not only make our roads safer, saving lives, disability and many millions of pounds through the reduction in the number of crashes, but they are also are a valuable tool for the early diagnosis of many other costly medical conditions, irrespective of driving,” added Neil Worth. “That is why we are urging as many people as possible to show their support for road safety by signing the ‘Driving Blind’ petition.”
“The time has come to accept that the current driver eyesight test simply isn’t fit for purpose. What’s more, it is certainly no longer acceptable for drivers to self-certify.
“Many more people are staying behind the wheel into their eighties and beyond. This, coupled with the greater volume of traffic and an increase in distractions, both inside and outside the vehicle, points to the clear need for more regular and detailed eyesight testing.”
Eyesight Education in Shropshire
JT Hughes spoke to Nigel Webster, Roads Policing Inspector at West Mercia Police who said they hope to raise awareness of the importance of driver eyesight testing through education.
He explained they will be looking to see how they can develop this into one of their project areas, particularly within the elderly community.
“We are keen to support the Driving Blind campaign and look to develop work in this area over the coming months, working with the safer roads partnership to identify opportunities for an appropriate education package”
Poor Vision Under-Reported
To be a safe driver, you must have good eyesight. Poor vision increases the risk of collisions due to a drivers inability to recognise and react in time to a hazard or the behaviour of other road users.
Poor vision is underreported to the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and untreated eye conditions can occur over time. In extreme cases, drivers can lose up to 40 percent of their vision without being aware of a problem.
“A regular, thorough eye examination will not only reveal any deficiencies in a client’s driving vision but will also highlight any underlying health issues,” Nishad explains.
“An eye exam will involve firstly checking the level of vision and whether any improvement is possible with spectacles. While many clients will be able to achieve the DVLA standard without spectacles, they will be surprised at the extent to which their vision can be improved.”
“In most cases, vision change is gradual and the driver is unaware that their vision has deteriorated.
What The Eye Test Involves
The eye test was introduced in 1937 and since then has only been amended in minor ways to reflect number plate sizes. According to Brake, drivers with visual field defects have double the incidence of road crashes and traffic violations compared to drivers with a full visual field.
Nishad said that it is important to get your vision tested regularly to pick up visual problems such as cataract and Glaucoma.
“Some examinations will also involve checking the contrast acuity which is a measure of the level of contrast that the subject is able to detect. Black characters on a white or yellow background are the easiest to identify. However, we are rarely presented with 90% contrast in real life.”
“Cataract will also result in glare sensitivity, faded or yellow colours and sometimes double vision with just one eye.”
“An eye exam not only checks for common visual problems such as cataract but also for Glaucoma and Macular degeneration as well as vascular conditions such as Diabetes and Hypertension. All of these conditions can result in loss of vision which will ultimately affect the ability to drive.”
He advised that in addition to examining the eye, a comprehensive eye examination will also involve a visual field check which will assess the clients peripheral vision.
“The DVLA sets a standard for drivers visual fields and your optometrist can advise you on this.
“Regular visual field tests are used also to test for conditions like Glaucoma and Pituitary gland tumours. Any defect in peripheral vision will impair the driver’s ability to detect hazards approaching from the sides.”
Nishad explained that eye examinations also include tests for binocular vision. These will determine the accuracy of depth perception, which is critical for driving.
The Outcome of a Vision Test
“The final outcome of the eye exam will most often be a recommendation for spectacles if required,” said Nishad
“Having conducted a fully comprehensive eye examination the optometrist is in the best position to give advice on eyewear. This will include the correct prescription for driving glasses, any coatings or tints that may be required and even the best size and shape of the driving spectacles.”
Driving glasses must allow the wearer to see clearly, observe peripheral hazards as well as function in different light levels.
Nishad also emphasised the importance of getting the right tinted and coated lenses to cope with glare from low or bright sun and oncoming headlamps.
“One of the most common complaints from drivers presently is difficulty due to glare when driving in the dark. The optical industry has responded with lenses that are designed specifically to combat disability glare.”
Don’t Take Chance on Eyesight
“The importance of regular and comprehensive eye examinations cannot be emphasised enough, especially for drivers. Not only can an eye exam prevent road fatalities but it can also result in the diagnosis of life-threatening conditions,” said Nishad.
“With autumn around the corner many, of us will start undertaking our daily commutes in increasingly difficult driving conditions. Can we really be sure that “seeing the number plate” is enough? Don’t take a chance.”