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

We all know how imperative it is to stay awake and alert, free from alcohol or drugs – not to mention medically fit – to be able to drive. All are essential in order to prevent accidents from occurring.

However, we can be blind to another risk: eyesight.

Because eyesight degrades gradually, and because it’s not at the forefront of the mind when preparing to drive, many drivers fail to get their eyes regularly checked. We take a closer look at this often-neglected area 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.

In order to be able to drive, you must be able to read (with glasses or contact lenses, if necessary) a licence plate from 20 metres away, in clear conditions. You also need to be able to read something from 6 meters away that someone with standard vision can read from 12 meters away – 6/12 vision on the Snellen scale.

If you can't meet these requirements, your insurance will be invalid.

Once you obtain your driving license, you are expected to take responsibility for your vision. This means having regular checks. If an accident occurs and an individual is deemed to have failed this responsibility, a hefty fine, points on their 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 issues and loopholes that can cause problems.

Firstly, many drivers rely on testing themselves, frequently by only using a rough estimate (like a sign on the side of the road or the number plate of a vehicle X amount of vehicles ahead of us). This is rarely a true reflection of their actual level of vision.

For other drivers, if they have never had any issues with their eyesight and don’t notice any symptoms such as blurred vision or headaches, they won't bother to have regular eye tests.

The main problem with the way eyesight is tested, however, comes down to what it focusses on. Visual acuity (how far you can see) is only half the story. Accidents can also occur because the field of vision has narrowed, which can't be checked by reading off a licence plate. These issues can only be picked up properly through a full eye test with your optician.

Campaigns

In order to make us all safer on the road, a number of leading motoring organisations in the UK have led calls for drivers to undergo testing to reduce accidents.

A survey by Brake showed that a quarter of drivers had not had an eye test in the last two years, the maximum length of time recommended between tests. More worryingly, 19% of those who participated admitted that even though they notice problems with their eyesight, they have never had their eyes formally checked. That could equate to almost nine million drivers in the UK.

In September, 2018, it was announced that road police forces in Thames Valley, Hampshire and the West Midlands can stop drivers and test their eyesight on the side of the road. They can revoke someone’s license immediately if they feel that the driver is compromising their own and the safety of others on the road.

 

Steps you can take

Making sure that you have regular eye checks is important, especially once you turn 40. Once you hit that milestone, your vision is more likely to start deteriorating, leaving drivers more vulnerable to accidents.

There are other, simple steps you can take to improve your vision when you are behind the wheel of the car:

 

Conclusion

It's important to be able to see that licence plate at 20 metres, but vision suitable for driving demands much more. Blurriness, tunnel vision and loss of depth of field are all common visual problems that 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 check-up?