Driving a car is a regular part of modern-day life but the four-wheeled machines have the capacity to kill or seriously injure if we, as drivers, make an error in judgement.

Much is often written about the need to be awake and alert, free from alcohol and drugs and medically fit and able to drive and quite rightly so; all are essential in order to prevent accidents from occurring.

However, there is another risk which rarely receives the attention it deserves: eyesight.

Having the necessary level of vision behind the wheel of a car is vital but many drivers fail to get their eyes regularly checked. We take a closer look at this often-neglected area of driving and consider just why it's so important.

 

Legal requirements
You may think your vision is fine but it's worth taking a moment to remind yourself of the legal limits for drivers.

Any driver must be able to read a licence plate at 20.5 metres, in clear conditions; corrective lenses may be worn if required.

If you can't meet this requirement, your insurance will be invalid.

Drivers are expected to take responsibility for their vision after they acquire their licence and this means having regular checks as necessary. If an accident occurs and an individual is deemed to have failed in this responsibility, a hefty fine, points on the licence or even a prison sentence can be handed out.

 

Fundamental problems
Although the law is clear on what is required in order to drive a car safely, there are some fundamental problems with the standard.

Firstly, many drivers will self-test which frequently will be no more than a rough estimate and rarely a true reflection of their actual level of vision.

If you don't wear glasses and aren't noticing any symptoms such as blurred vision or headaches, many drivers simply won't bother to have regular eye tests.

The other issue is that visual acuity (how far you can see) is only half the story. Accidents can also occur because the field of vision has narrowed; this can't be checked simply by reading off a licence plate. A full eye test with your optician can however spot any deficiencies in this area.

 

Campaigns
A number of leading motoring organisations in the UK have led calls for drivers to undergo testing in order to reduce the risks of an accident occurring.

A recent survey showed that more than a quarter of driver had not had an eye test in the last two years, the maximum length of time recommended between tests. More worryingly, 3% of those who participated admitted they had never had their eyes formally checked. This could equate to more than a million drivers in the UK.

Around one in ten drivers who require either contact lenses or glasses often don't wear them when they are driving, a foolhardy move that could easily result in casualties.

Studies have shown that for every 13 years over 20 years of age, the average person needs double the light to be able to see in the same manner as they did when they were younger.

 

Steps you can take
Having regular eye checks is the most obvious measure that all drivers can take, especially after the age of 40. This is because vision is more likely to deteriorate after this time, leaving drivers more vulnerable to having accidents.

However, there are some other simple steps you can take to improve your vision when you are behind the wheel of the car.

Firstly, regardless of whether or not you wear glasses, making sure your windscreen wipers are working properly and won't leave smears across the glass when used. This is essential in order to make sure your vision doesn't end up blocked.

If you wear glasses, consider getting a separate pair for driving. Good styles for being behind the wheel include high sides and thin rims as these features increase the levels of all-round visibility.

To protect your eyes you might want to invest in a pair of polycarbonate or plastic lenses; these are less likely than glass to shatter in the event of an accident.

 

Conclusion
It's important to be able to see that licence plate at 20.5 metres but vision suitable for driving demands much more. Blurriness, tunnel vision and loss of depth of field are all types of common visual problems which may not be picked up unless your eyes are regularly checked. Why risk both yours and everyone else's safety on the road, just for the sake of avoiding a quick 15 minute check-up?