A new national campaign to stop UK motorists ‘driving blind’ is being launched by Essilor Ltd, with support from the Association of Optometrists (AOP), independent opticians, MPs and activists.
The Driving Blind Campaign is petitioning the Government to take direct action to cut road accidents caused by drivers with defective vision.
Optical professionals are being asked to support the www.drivingblind.org.uk campaign by signing the petition and promoting it to colleagues, patients and MPs.
Campaign spokesman Nigel Corbett from Essilor will present a manifesto for new legislation that requires drivers to have their sight tested by an optometrist before their driving test and at every subsequent licence renewal application.
“The UK allows most new drivers to control a fast moving ton of metal, when the only assessment of their visual capacity is a basic vision test conducted by a non-medically qualified driving test centre worker, which only considers the driver’s ability to read a number plate at a distance of 20 metres,” said Corbett.
“In theory, they can then drive for the rest of their lives without ever having to prove their vision is fit for purpose. We need drivers to provide evidence from an optometrist that their eyes are roadworthy before they get their licence and then at regular intervals over their driving career.”
Drivers’ vision standards shown on the gov.uk website state the required levels of visual acuity measured by a ‘Snellen scale’ adding the required ‘field of vision’ which ‘can be tested by opticians’, Corbett said. “This is not enough. Tests must be mandatory, and done by an optometrist to ensure professional rigour. We know sight worsens with age yet we allow people to self-assess their eyes are fit to drive.”
Corbett will present his Road Safety Starts with Good Vision Manifesto in the House of Commons. It requires new drivers to have a sight test, with an optometrist, with follow-up tests every decade up to the age of 70, then every three years. It calls for test results to be supplied with licence renewal paperwork.
Corbett said in its current form, the Government is failing to meet its own regulatory requirements. The road-safety figures, he adds, make sobering reading.
It has been estimated that there are 3,000 casualties on UK roads every year where poor vision is a key factor according to the RSA, which Corbett said “is likely to be the tip of the iceberg as many drivers will not admit their poor vision caused an accident due to the potential consequences.”
AOP Professional Adviser, Henry Leonard said: “Eyesight is not always recorded as a factor at a road traffic accident but we believe the UK system creates unnecessary risk for road users. The current law relies on self-reporting and an initial number plate test – a practice that falls behind almost every other European country. The AOP is keen to see this rectified – we believe that all drivers should prove that they meet the legal requirement when they apply for a licence and then every 10 years, at licence renewal.
“We know from studies that poor vision has a detrimental impact on reaction times and there have been numerous tragic cases that were likely avoidable, had a robust system been in place. Because sight changes can be gradual, often people won’t realise that their vision has deteriorated over time or they may self-regulate – driving less, more slowly and where they are familiar. This is why the AOP advises everyone has a sight test every two years as a way of ensuring that they meet the legal driving standard – often an optometrist will be able to help them to reach this standard if they don’t.”
AOP research in 2017 revealed that more than one in three optometrists had seen a patient in the previous month who had vision below the legal standard, yet ignored advice and continued to drive. Its 2017 consumer poll showed that 30% of current road users had doubted whether their vision was adequate, yet continued to drive.
Figures obtained from the DVLA indicate that nearly 50,000 motorists had their licence revoked or refused in the period from 2012 to 2016 due to poor vision.
The World Health Organisation declared poor eyesight to one of the main risk factors for road crashes. A global study by the University of Milan has claimed that sixty per cent of motoring accidents are a result of visual processing errors.
A Brake study in 2014 showed that 1.5 million UK motorists had never had their eyes tested. A Direct Line study in April 2016 revealed that 37 per cent of people had not had an eye test in the previous two years.
The new Driving Blind campaign follows several high-profile cases in 2017 where poor vision was a factor in fatal accidents.
In March 2017, a Sutton Coldfield pensioner, John Place, was sentenced to 4 years in prison for killing toddler Poppy Arabella Clarke as she crossed the road with her mother. He told police that he had not seen the red light or the pelican crossing. Place had previously been advised by his optometrist that his vision was not adequate to continue driving.
Peter Scriven was jailed for three years after killing a 65-year-old pedestrian in November 2017. He had never been for a sight test, was blind in one eye and when tested, could only read a number plate at a distance of no more than three metres.
Newport man, Nigel Sweeting, 50, was jailed in May 2017 after colliding with a motorcyclist on the M4. He had been advised not to drive by his optometrist in the months leading up to the accident.
Corbett’s manifesto would bring the UK into line with countries like Italy, Spain, Estonia, Latvia, Serbia and Turkey, where drivers are tested every 10 years and at five, three or two-year intervals as they get older.
It also calls on employers to test the vision of company car users who hold group one licences and who can do as much mileage as group two drivers.
Corbett said there is huge public demand for change with surveys by the charity Brake and others showing that up to 87 per cent of the public want compulsory sight tests for drivers every 10 years and up to 86 per cent support new drivers being tested by an optometrist.
“We need many drivers to re-think their behaviour here, but for pedestrians, children, cyclists and other road-users, legislation is the best route.
“Contact me and the campaign team to get involved”, said Corbett. “We need social media support, blogs, and local publicity to promote the petition”.