/ Health, Motoring

Do you see sense in on-the-spot eye tests for motorists?

Blurry road lights

‘Sorry, I didn’t see you’ is a frequent excuse for poor driving. Although this is often due to loss of concentration, is enough being done to ensure our roads are used by those who pass the legal standard for eyesight?

Under DVLA rules, a driver must be able to read a car’s number plate 20.5 metres away from them. And this is something 5,285 motorists failed to do in 2011 on request from the police.

More concerning is the number of them who were behind the wheel of large vehicles – of those who had their licenses revoked, 685 were lorry or bus drivers.

According to the most recent Reported Road Casualties in Great Britain report, there were 250 accidents in 2011 caused by uncorrected or defective eyesight, including nine casualties.

Previously drivers who failed the roadside eye test could return to their vehicles and continue driving until they received a licence revocation document through the post. However, online systems now allow for a licence removal notice to be issued almost instantly, stopping drivers from getting back behind the wheel.

Of course, there are questions around how this will be governed. What are the chances of these individuals being subject to on-the-spot tests? How many will slip through the net and continue to put themselves and other road users in danger?

If you retook your driving test, would you pass?

And eyesight is not the only problem. According to a poll of 1,000 motorists by car insurance firm Esure, nearly one in five drivers said they’d fail the driving test if they had to re-take it again, and a quarter thought they’d fail the theory test.

Over half who answered the questionnaire said they’d picked up bad habits while driving, and one in five said they’d had a near miss or an accident in the last year. Driving over the speed limit was the most common bad habit (86%), followed by driving with one hand on the steering wheel (84%) and forgetting to check mirrors before changing speed (82%).

Do you think on-the-spot eye tests would be a good idea? How would you feel about having your eyesight scrutinised by police at the side of the road?

tony says:
25 April 2013

I feel that there are to many restrictions on and off the road. Quite frankly if people did their homework they would find that most of these so called crimes are illegally enforced.

I would not mind being stopped and checked once or maybe twice a year, but I am more concerned about people driving vehicles in unsafe condition.

Yes. I’m in favour of ‘on the spot’ eye tests. I am amazed at the number of people who do not bother about having an eye test until they experience difficulty with driving at night, seeing the TV or computer clearly, or their arms are too short to read the newspaper or restaurant menu. I always wear my spectacles when driving and have prescription sunglasses which I seem to wear more often than the clear spectacles. I really don’t know how some drivers manage with just the sun visor to block the late evening sun.

Phil says:
26 April 2013

Hmm, so a police officer, who I guess is not medically trained, asks you to step out of your car and read a number plate and on that test alone you could lose your driving licence? Are they going to measure the distance correctly or just guess at it? Would it be valid at night? In fog? Falling snow?Would there be an appeal process or would any ban be pending a proper eye test at the correct distance in appropriate lighting?

There is an official test that drivers must be able to satisfy before driving.

It is a matter of Public safety. It is terribly inconvenient to be dead as the result of a driver who cannot see properly.

Years ago I heard of a driver who was arrested having knocked-down a pedestrian on a Zebra crossing. They were originally believed to be drunk, Upon arrival at the police station the driver kept bumping into obstacles, door-frames etc. It later transpired that their eyesight was so poor that they were eligible to be registered blind.

The sad fact is that most of the drivers with poor eyesight probably know it and put off going to the opticians because of the cost. In a few cases, vanity and image might have something to do with not wanting to wear glasses behind the wheel, but prescription sun glasses are the remedy for that concern [I’m not suggesting that is why Figgerty wears sunglasses! – that is just comon sense, especially in the Winter when the sun is low and piercing]. I would be quite happy for the police to administer vision tests to the same standard as driving examiners do. A properly set-up check-point at a motorway service station could be trialled and, if effective in changing attitudes and raising safety levels, could be extended to other locations. There would probably have to be some tolerance so the driver can complete the journey before the licence becomes invalid. The insurance companies might find a way of giving a concession on the premium in return for drivers going to an optician. Generally, unilluminated traffic signs and direction signs are designed, scaled and situated so as to be read comfortably at the ruling speed limit in normal daylight having regard to sighting distances and traffic density; if a driver is having difficulty reading the signs and has to slow down or take their eyes off the road for a longer period then they should already have gone to an optician. I think we have a duty to all road users and to our passengers to be fit to drive, with corrected vision where necessary, so that our eyes can still cope adequately if affected by tiredness, work-induced eye strain, or even any mild intoxication or narcotic effects. Vision impairnent taxes the brain and driving in today’s conditions puts a heavy enough demand on the brain without compounding it. .

I definitely agree. I’m not in my late 60s and when I visit the optician I struggle to read the bottom row of the eye chart these days. My optician says not to worry too much as that thick line in the middle of the chart is the legal minimum standard for driving! I was horrified to know that there are thousands of drivers legally on the road with substandard sight!

Let’s tighten up the sight standard and have more spot checks.

That should say ‘NOW in my late 60s’.

Is being able to read a number plate in good light adequate as a test for eyesight? It could be passed by people with poor peripheral vision (tunnel vision) or poor night vision.

Yes, drivers should be liable to on the spot eyesight tests and the Law should be changed to facilitate on-the-spot driving bans.

Here is SeeDrive UK Driver’s Number Plate Eye Test


I think these posts all suggest that it’s not just spot checks that are needed, but the eyesight test used by examiners is totally inadequate. Just because you can see a black on white number plate in bright daylight doesn’t mean you have adequate sight to drive safely.

Surely this is something the EU should be pursuing: a common standard driving test (including eyesight) across the EU. It might enforce the male-vanity societies to start wearing specs!

I had been using reading glasses for a while, but when I realised my distance sight was not as good as it should be, off I went to the opticians for the first time.
I soon changed my first pair of driving glasses as they were completely unsuitable for driving. They were too small and my area of vision was impaired.
As my vision deteriorated, I also could not see the car dials properly. My driving glasses are now bi-focals with a small area at the bottom so I can now see the dials. My prescription sunglasses are the same for when I use them for driving
There was no advice from the opticians as to what makes sensible driving glasses. I wonder how many people are driving with unsuitable specs.
I have watched people with vari-focals bobbing their heads around so they can see what they are looking at. Are these specs suitable for driving?
Maybe more needs to be done to make sure the short-sighted are wearing suitable driving glasses.

brat673 says:
8 May 2013

Whilst we should applaud eye / medical tests as a means to increase road safety. ANY test needs to be fair and an appeal process simple and quick to reverse ( if you are pronounced fit to drive once more).
It can take several months to regain your licence due to the lazy, couldn’t care less attitude of DVLA. This to a person who depends on their licence for mobility or their employment.

brat673 says:
28 May 2013

With the experience gained from my neighbour if you loose your licence for whatever reason getting it back is neither fair or quick! Through a simple error made whilst undergoing a routine check ordered by DVLA **( now done by Boots the Chemist instead of the local hospital). He had his licence revoked. He did not know until the DVLA letter informing him of the situation. Boots the Chemist don’t tell you something is wrong ( your not the customer!). It took5months to regain his licence!!!!! ** He does have glaucoma but is treated for it with drops. No degradation of his sight occurred. Very helpful DVLA??

Dear All,

The human eye is part of the human brain. It is illogical to to discuss eyesight failings in isolation from other brain functions; [e.g. ‘can’t see’ drives like a saint versus ‘can see’ lunatic drivers].

If ‘Which?’ truly believed in road consumer rights {to life} it would seriously campaign to stop the ten thousand deaths and serious injuries that the incapable human brain inflicts on its fellows just in the UK every year.

An Advanced ‘Turing test’ that humans brains could never pass is the only answer to changing the narcissistic car deification mindset that continually ruins so many lives.

One day perhaps accident free human-driver-less cars will prevail leaving their less well equipped brained occupants to play the same driver games – with controls and screens – that they do now but without the dire consequences.

Come on ‘Which?’ you know I am right.



Until we have tests for the mental fitness to drive and a re-testing programme in place, perhaps we need to be doing spot checks on eyesight.

J P Hamilton says:
12 July 2013

Alfa, how do you know they are wearing vari-focals and if so it may have nothing to do with haed bobbing.

AFAIR a decade or more ago the Metropolitan Police looked at their drivers who had accidents and found that their worst drivers actually had poor peripheral vision.

This explains the relevance:
and this gets quite scientific:

The most interesting research, though not aimed at peripheral vision is this piece which is really rather shocking in its findings. regrettably there are some obvious points of interest like where the drivers asked if they had ever cycled as an teenager or above on a road …..

Drivers % that failed to spot cyclists

Sat nav drivers 23.7
Non-sat nav drivers 19.0
Female drivers 25.6
Male drivers 17.1
Drivers aged 20-29 31.1
Drivers aged 30-39 20.7
Drivers aged 40-49 21.6
Drivers aged 50-59 20.9
All drivers 22.0

Source: Direct Line Motor Insurance