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Why being able to read a number plate just isn’t good enough

Tuesday, October 15, 2019 - 09:05
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Dr Felicity Gill

Road safety organisation GEM Motoring Assist says the current eyesight test for drivers is long out of date and not fit for purpose. GEM is calling for a detailed check of every driver’s visual acuity and field of view every 10 years.

GEM road safety officer Neil Worth renewed the organisation’s call for the government to update driver vision laws to ensure that a detailed eye examination formed part of the driver photocard licence renewal process, every 10 years.

“If you can’t see properly, you shouldn’t be driving,” he said. “Poor eyesight is linked to more than 3,000 fatal and serious injury collisions every year. We are worried that there are just too many people driving whose eyesight has deteriorated to an unacceptable level.

“We believe it is entirely practical and sensible to require a test of visual acuity and field of view every 10 years, something that would fit in with licence renewal. Tests of this kind would not only make our roads safer, saving lives, disability and many millions of pounds through the reduction in the number of crashes, but they would also play a vital role valuable tool in the early diagnosis of many other costly medical conditions, irrespective of driving.

The professional perspective

GEM has been working with community optometrist Felicity Gill, who outlined the extent of the issue. “Day to day, I talk both to patients concerned about their own driving experiences and also to those worried about an elderly friend or family member who is driving,” she said.

“Remember that driving is not just about clarity of central vision, so asking your loved one to read a number plate at 20.5 metres (67 feet) is not the best way of ensuring they are safe to continue driving.

“Eye examinations are free for over 60s on a two-yearly basis – or more frequently if recommended by an optometrist. They offer an opportunity for a professional to check that vision is clear enough for driving and that field of vision is sufficient using a visual fields machine. The tests offer the opportunity to identify – at an early stage – any eye conditions that might affect driving, and to address them if necessary.”

“The most common ageing change in the eye is cataract (clouding of the lens inside the eye). An optometrist is best placed to detect these and to give advice on how to live with the early stages of cataracts. If they worsen, a patient can be referred to the local eye hospital for treatment.

“Other common conditions include diabetes/diabetic eye disease, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.

“Any condition is better detected early, as intervention can often help delay or stop it from progressing.

Responsible mobility

GEM believes that regular mandatory eyesight tests for drivers is now even more important, as so many more people are staying behind the wheel into their 80s and beyond.

“There are many benefits for a driver to staying mobile as long as possible,” concluded Neil Worth. “However, safety must remain the number one priority for everyone.

“We also cannot ignore the greater volume of traffic and the general increase in distractions, both inside and outside the vehicle, which further point to the clear need for more regular and detailed eyesight testing.”


Felicity Gill’s practice, Jackson and Gill Opticians, is based in Hay-on-Wye

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