Better or worse? Roadside eye tests have been overdue and are needed

Image of Alisdair Suttie
Author: | Updated: 07 Sep 2018 17:05

Your car is taxed, insured and you have a full driving licence, yet you could still face having your licence revoked and car taken away. How so? It’s all to do with eyesight and a push by three police forces to test the vision of every driver they stop.

If a driver cannot read a number plate from 20 metres, there’s a good chance police in the Thames Valley, Hampshire and West Midlands forces will revoke that individual’s licence. The reason being the police consider any driver who fails this simple test to be putting themselves and other road users at risk.


Each year, there are around 6,000 drivers who have their licence revoked due to poor eyesight and it’s reckoned there are 2,900 casualties on UK roads for the same reason. This comes with a £33 million cost attached due to insurance pay-outs, repairs and the expense for the NHS and emergency services.

Up to one driver in 30 has defective eyesight

With this push from the above three police forces, we can expect the number of drivers with revoked licences to rise dramatically as it’s thought as many as one driver in 30 has defective eyesight. That’s not just a fractional loss that will be picked up during a regular eye test at an opticians, but a serious loss of sight and field of vision.

It’s important to note the field of vision element as so much of safe driving is dealt with by peripheral vision. This is when you spot something that’s not immediately in front of you and can sometimes feel like that sixth sense kicking to warn of potential danger. It’s a hugely important part of any driver’s armoury to stay safe on the road, as well as being vital for motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians too.


Police to test drivers’ eyes, and REVOKE licences if they fail

Many drivers who suffer from a significant loss of vision are likely to think they are fine. Due to the gradual nature of deteriorating eyesight in most instances, it’s not something you’ll notice in day to day driving. It’s why regular eye tests are vital for all drivers, even if you don’t think you need glasses or contact lenses.

An eye test at an optician’s is quick, easy and reassuring. If you have no degradation in vision, you have nothing more to worry about until the next test, which should be scheduled every two years.

Should an eye test show up some loss of vision, it can usually be dealt with simply by the prescription of glasses, contact lenses or even surgery if that’s the recommended path. Whichever is the best route, you’ll have the comfort of knowing your eyesight is up to the required standard for driving.

Eye test

It’s very likely that other police forces will introduce the eyesight test as part of their existing roadside checks. For every car they stop, the police will check for road tax, insurance and, where valid, an MoT. They’ll also check the driver has the correct type of driving licence. Given the ease of all this with technology in police cars, adding a simple vision test is quick and easy at the roadside.

Some drivers may feel this is another way of punishing a section of the public that’s already subject to more scrutiny and regulations than many others. However, the simple fact is you’re in charge of a vehicle that car travel at very high speed and has the potential to cause death or serious injury if not handled correctly.

We should be glad the three police forces mentioned above are bringing a routine eye test into their roadside stops. It’s something to be applauded and encouraged across the whole of the UK for police forces as it costs nothing to implement and has far-reaching consequences for those found to have deficient eyesight.


What of those drivers who fail a roadside eye test?

Under what’s known as Cassie’s Law, after 16-year old Cassie McCord who was killed when an 87-year old driver lost control of his vehicle and collided with the teenager, the police have the power to revoke a driver’s licence at the roadside.

From there, the police supply their evidence to the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) which, if the information is found to be sufficient, will result in the driver being required to have an eye test. Depending on the outcome of that vision test, the driver may have their licence revoked and they’ll be issued with a disqualification.

Eight weeks before the end of any such disqualification, a driver can then reapply for their licence, but they may be required to provide evidence of their eyesight being up to the legal standard using spectacles or contact lenses.


The standards for truck and bus drivers are even tougher as they have to pass a more stringent eye test than car drivers, who only have to be able to read a number plate from a distance of 20-metres. There’s a strong body of opinion that thinks all drivers should have to pass the higher bar set for bus and truck drivers.

Of course, every driver can easily check their eyesight long before they encounter a police check or, should the worst happen, be involved in a collision. Every time you get behind the wheel, it’s a simple matter of looking for another car parked 20-metres in front and reading off its number plate without having to squint or fiddle with your existing glasses.

Act now if you think your eyesight is bad

If you’re not sure how far 20 metres is, reckon on the amount of space used by four parked cars. Given how easy this is to carry out every day, there’s no excuse or reason not to check your eyes.

The trickier part is getting drivers to act on their honest appraisal if they think there’s a problem. Few drivers want to admit they might have a flaw in their skills, but there’s no shame or stigma in realising you could do with a trip to the optician’s. Far from it, recognising there may be a problem and addressing it before it becomes a serious issue is the best course of action and the sure sign of a sensible, responsible driver.

Getting your eyes tested routinely as a driver is simple and can make a huge difference. When you realise defective eyesight can slow reaction times by 20%, which can equate to two car lengths at higher speeds, it’s madness not to get your peepers checked out.

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