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Drivers with poor eyesight running risks on the road

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A study has found that millions of motorists admit to driving without the glasses or contact lenses they should be wearing. We look at the potential consequences.

Smiling driver wearing glasses
Millions of drivers with poor eyesight are putting themselves and other road users at risk by failing to wear glasses or contact lenses at the wheel.

Research published by insurer Direct Line has found that more than 13 million motorists with defective vision admit they drive without their spectacles or contacts at times.

Potential jail sentences

And around a fifth of such drivers say they always take this risk.

Direct Line says that, aside from the heightened risk of collisions, the potential consequences of such action are serious.

If motorists fail to use the correct eyeware, they could invalidate their insurance policy, leaving themselves open to the possibility of having to foot large repair or legal bills.

They could even face fines of up to £1,000 and potentially jail sentences if found guilty of negligently causing an accident.

Gus Park, director of motor at Direct Line, said: “Having good eyesight is a basic requirement of safe driving but our research shows that many motorists are driving without their glasses or contact lenses.

‘As dangerous as drink driving’

Park added: “Driving with poor eyesight is illegal and can be as dangerous as drink driving. If caught, you risk invalidating your insurance, receiving a fine and in some cases, risk imprisonment.”

Direct Line found that people were most likely to drive without glasses or contacts on short trips to the shops or doctor’s, for example.

But one in 10 said they had done so on the school run.

According to the RAC, road accidents caused by poor driver vision are estimated to cause 2,900 casualties and cost £33 million every year in the UK.

Lack of testing

In the Direct Line study, men and people aged between 18 and 34 were found to be more likely than other groups to drive unaided.

The study also found that a large proportion of the motoring public were failing to ensure their eyesight was good enough to drive without glasses or lenses: almost two-fifths of those questioned said they had not had an eye test in the past two years.

“Given that a person’s eyesight can change a significant amount in as little as six months or a year, we recommend motorists have their eyes tested at least every two years to make sure they remain safe on the road and reduce the risk of road accidents,” Park said.

He also pointed out that anyone whose eyesight registered below 0.5 (6/12) on the Snellen scale was obliged to inform the DVLA, as would those with conditions such as cataracts.

Glasses and eye test

Compulsory checks needed

“Drivers must also be able to read a car number plate from 20 meters: if you are asked to read one and cannot, your licence may be revoked and you could be prosecuted.”  

The road safety charity GEM Motoring Assist recently called on ministers to introduce compulsory eyesight testing for motorists of all ages at regular intervals.

GEM said the “registration plate” eyesight check that forms part of the driving test was the only assessment drivers were given before the age of 70.

Once motorists reach 70, they must re-apply for their licence every three years and are obliged to declare any medical issues, including deteriorating eyesight, to the DVLA.

‘Tests every 10 years’

The organisation’s chief executive David Williams said: “We are worried that a large number of drivers have not had their eyes tested for many years – and some have never had a test.

“Many of us assume our vision is fine and does not require a check-up; however, we have no way of knowing this for sure. That’s why it’s so important for road safety that the government take steps to ensure regular, compulsory testing for all drivers.

“We believe it is unacceptable to operate a system where a driver can read a number plate aged 17 and carry on driving for 50 years or more without any eyesight check whatsoever.”

Williams said that GEM, along with many other motoring bodies, believed everyone should have a professional eye test when applying for a provisional licence followed by a check-up every 10 years.

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