We as a nation are getting older; in 1970, the average life expectancy was 71.92 years, in 2015, that jumped to 81.60 years of age, and it still rises. This, of course, has a knock-on effect – the number of drivers aged over 90 topped 100,000 in 2017, and over 5 million British drivers are aged 70 or above.

We’ve even seen a 15% spike in ‘Centenarian’ motoring – currently, there are 265 Brits over 100 that still hold a valid UK driving licence.

And yet, the only time that an official eye test is undertaken for driving, is at the time of the test – reading a number plate at 20 metres. Simple maths tells us that there could be a reasonable number of drivers that had never done that either, as the test was only introduced in 1937.

Better regulation of testing

The road safety organisation, GEM Motoring Assist, are calling for compulsory eyesight testing every ten years, although they have said that in an ideal world, that would be every two years, particularly for those aged forty and over.

At first glance (no pun intended), it would seem another road safety campaign that’s been designed to grab headlines and column inches, but dig a little deeper into the statistics, and there seems to be a valid defence behind the call.

According to figures released by the DVLA, nearly 50,000 drivers had their driving licence refused or withdrawn due to vision problems between 2012/16, and nearly 3,000 fatal or serious injury collisions each year occur as a result of poor eyesight. A 2014 study by the road safety charity Brake, revealed that nearly 1.5 million motorists have never had their eyes tested.

The campaign has been started as a result of an accident involving a pensioner and a three-year-old girl, who was tragically killed as she waited at a pelican crossing with her mother – the driver admitted to not being able to see the child, red light, or pelican crossing; he’d been advised to stop driving by an optician.

Safer roads

There may be a minority of motorists that see this as a potential stealth tax, perhaps more so when GEM road safety officer Neil Worth states: “The most practical measure would be a sight test every ten years, along with licence renewal which would make it practical and enforceable”, but current photocard licences can be renewed from as little as £14, and with eye tests available from £10 (currently), £2.40 per year doesn’t sound so bad.

Perhaps if the campaign took off, insurance companies would be willing to offer reduced premiums to those that prove their vision, after all, there should be a significant reduction in serious or fatal accidents each year, leading to safer roads and reduced claims.

There is further benefit to drivers also; eye tests can help detect numerous undiagnosed conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, thyroid disorders, high cholesterol and even multiple sclerosis – the eyes are an excellent indicator of health when examined correctly.

Driving blind

If you’re a spectacle or contact lens wearer, there’s a high chance that you already have an understanding of your vision capability, but for those of you that have never taken an eye test, it’s worth knowing that you can lose up to 40% of your visual acuity without even realising that there is a problem.

Many high street opticians offer free eye testing for qualifying persons, but should you have to pay, the typical price is anywhere between £10 – £20 for a full examination, so perhaps it’s worth considering as a precautionary measure, especially for those aged forty plus, or on long-term medication. You may gain a better understanding of your own vision, or even health. A simple test is to stand 20 metres from a car and see if you can read the number plate – if you can’t, it’s time to book that eye test or stop driving.

It’s also worth knowing that the police are able to revoke a driver’s licence on the spot if the driver fails a basic roadside sight test, and that you could be liable to prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000 if you fail to inform the DVLA about a medical condition that could affect your driving.

If you think that compulsory eye tests for British motorists could help with road safety, then you can sign the ‘Driving Blind’ petition here.

Do you think that compulsory eye tests could help with road safety? Should drivers have a more rigorous sight test when applying for their licence? Have you ever had a ‘moment’ that could be down to not being able to see clearly? Let us know.

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