Campaign calls on fleets to sharpen up, as survey reveals many drivers fail to get sight tested

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A campaign just launched calls on fleet professionals to sharpen up by ensuring employees get their eyesight tested every two years to ensure their vision meets legal standards and they aren't putting people in danger.

The campaign by road safety charity Brake, working alongside the DVLA, insurer RSA and Specsavers, comes as research shows many drivers are failing to ensure they can see properly on every journey.

A survey of 1,000 drivers released by Brake, RSA and Specsavers finds that a quarter of drivers (26%) haven't had a vision test in the last two years. A worrying one in 11 (9%) admit not visiting the optician for five years or more, or never: for 3% it's been more than a decade and 3% (the equivalent to more than one million UK drivers) have never been.


At the same time, many drivers who know they need glasses or lenses fail to wear them on every journey. Nearly one in 10 (9%) who need glasses or lenses don't always wear them when driving. Furthermore, of those who claimed they don't need glasses or lenses, one in three (32%) haven't had their eyes checked in the last two years, so can't be certain their vision is up to scratch.

To raise awareness among drivers about their responsibilities, the DVLA has launched an online education campaign.

Research shows that failing to ensure your vision is good enough to drive is enormously risky, and is estimated to result in 2,900 road casualties a year, causing trauma and devastation to many victims [1].

Employers can help ensure good vision standards and eye health by providing employees with free or discounted eye tests, and regular advice about the importance of good eyesight to safe and responsible driving.

Fleet professionals and any employer with staff who drive for work are encouraged to attend Brake's Fit to drive conference in Manchester on 17 September. The conference will discuss best practice in preventing driver impairment, including poor vision, as well as latest research about the dangers of impaired driving and interventions. Register online or contact Brake on admin@brake.org.uk or +44 (0)1484 559909.

Subscribers to Brake's Fleet Safety Forum can get discounted places at this and other Brake events, and access to driver eyesight and other road safety resources. Subscribe here.

Read about Brake's sharpen up campaign, supported by RSA and Specsavers.

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake, the road safety charity, said: "To prevent needless and costly crashes and casualties, fleets need to look after employees' health and fitness to drive as well as making sure vehicles are roadworthy - and that includes ensuring good vision. Being able to see properly is fundamental to being a safe driver so regular eye tests and raising awareness about vision and driving should be part of any robust road risk management programme. It's also something relatively simple employers can do for the benefit of their employees' health and wellbeing. Eyesight can deteriorate rapidly without you noticing, and serious eye conditions can quickly develop if unchecked, which at the wheel that can be lethal."

Jan Chandaman, Head of Medical Licensing Policy at DVLA, said: "Britain has some of the safest roads in the world and licensing rules play an important part in keeping our roads safe. Reducing road casualties is a top priority for the government. All drivers are required by law to meet the appropriate eyesight standard at all times while driving. DVLA regularly remind drivers of the ongoing requirement to meet the eye sight standard and that failure to meet the standard is an offence - this is also included in the Highway Code. The number plate test is a simple assessment of vision and can be reproduced regularly by motorists to check whether they meet the standards themselves and by the police at the roadside."

Adrian Brown, CEO of RSA UK & Western Europe, said: "It's no wonder so many people aren't fit to drive when eye tests aren't required by law at any point once you've passed your driving test. Far more regular testing will mean safer, more responsible drivers and will be good for people's health in general too."

Paul Carroll, director of professional services for Specsavers, said: "We have been campaigning through our support of Brake's Sharpen Up campaign and also our own Drive Safe activity for a number of years to make our roads safer for all road users including pedestrians. Taking responsibility for your sight is just as important as car insurance and MOTs."

Case study

Cassie McCord, from Colchester, was just 16 when she was run down and killed by a driver with defective eyesight. Colin Horsfall, 87, had been stopped three days earlier and police found he was unable to read a number plate at 20 metres. They asked if he would surrender his licence, but were unable to persuade him.

Cassie, who wanted to become a lawyer, was hit on the pavement as she walked to college in February 2011. She died from severe head injuries the next day. Horsfall died from his injuries three months later.

Since Cassie's death, her mum Jackie McCord has campaigned for Cassie's Law, to help police get drivers found to have defective eyesight off roads quicker. This has resulted in a new procedure making it faster for police to report potential problems with driver eyesight. Jackie is also supporting Brake's sharpen up campaign, calling for drivers to get their eyesight tested every two years, and urging all drivers who need to wear glasses or lenses to do so at all times when driving.

Cassie's mum Jackie said: "Cassie was a wonderful young woman with so much to look forward to, but her life was snatched away needlessly. It's difficult to understand why anyone would risk getting behind the wheel without being sure they could see properly, which is such a basic requirement for being able to drive. Even if you think your eyesight is fine, you might not notice deterioration in your vision, so I'd implore every driver who hasn't been to get their eyes checked in the last two years to book an appointment today. I also firmly agree with Brake that it should be compulsory for drivers to have their sight re-tested, at least every time you renew your licence. It would help make our roads safer and prevent more tragedies."

Facts about eyesight and driving

A recent report by RSA found that road crashes caused by poor driver vision result in an estimated 2,900 casualties and cost £33 million per year [2].

It is estimated up to five million UK drivers would fail a number-plate test if they had to take it again [3], but only 5,916 drivers had their licence revoked by the DVLA for failing to meet minimum eyesight standards in 2011[4]. This may be because drivers don't have to prove they have safe vision to drive. Instead the DVLA is reliant on drivers or third-parties to report vision defects, and there is no routine testing of driver eyesight at the scene of a crash by police. Even if drivers are tested using the number-plate method, this can't pick up on defects in visual fields.

Good eyesight is critical to safe driving, and studies have shown that crash risk is heightened by poor vision [5].

Drivers with visual field defects, whether they are due to glaucoma, a retinal disease or cataract, have double the incidence of road crashes and traffic violations compared to drivers with a full visual field. Almost half of people with visual field loss are unaware of any problem with peripheral vision [6].

Contrast sensitivity and glare sensitivity can only be tested by medical professionals, but it is an important indicator of the ability to drive safely. If you have poor sensitivity, you may pass a number plate test easily in daylight, but in lower light acuity falls dramatically [7].

Calls to government

Brake's Sharpen up campaign calls for drivers to regularly visit their optician, at least every two years, to make sure their vision is fit for driving. It also calls on government to introduce a requirement for drivers to provide proof of a recent visit when applying for their provisional licence and every renewal after that.

Relying on drivers to regularly test themselves using number plate test doesn't work. Not only are many drivers not doing this, but this method doesn't test for visual fields, an important aspect of safe driving [8].

Full survey results

Survey of 1,000 drivers conducted by Redshift Research on behalf of Brake, RSA and Specsavers.

Q1. When did you last have an eyesight test by an optician?

  • 47% said less than one year ago
  • 29% said one to two years ago
  • 10% said two to three years ago
  • 7% said three to five years ago
  • 3% said five to 10 years ago
  • 3% said more than 10 years ago
  • 3% said they've never had one

Q2. If you require glasses or lenses for driving, do you always wear them while driving?

  • 28% don't need glasses or lenses for driving, and have had an eyesight test in the past two years
  • 14% don't need glasses or lenses for driving, but haven't had an eyesight test in the past two years
  • 52% need glasses or lenses for driving, and always wear them
  • 3% need glasses or lenses for driving, but have driven without them once or twice in the past 12 months
  • 1% need glasses or lenses for driving, but have driven without them several times in the past 12 months
  • 2% need glasses or lenses for driving, but have driven without them once a month or more in the past 12 months

End notes

  1. Fit to Drive: a cost benefit analysis of more frequent eyesight testing for UK drivers, RSA, 2012
  2. ibid
  3. Utton, T., Millions of motorists are driving blind, 2011. The Daily Mail.Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-144678/Millions-motorists-driving-blind.html
  4. Question to Parliament, Meg Munn MP, 13 December 2012
  5. Vlakveld W, Wesemann P, Devillers E, Elvik R, Veisten K (2005), ‘Detailed cost-benefit analysis of potential impairment countermeasures: research in the framework of the European research programme IMMORTAL', SWOV Institute for Road Safety Research, Leidschendam
  6. Johnson CA, Keltner JL. Incidence of visual field loss in 20.000 eyes and its relationship to driving performance. Arch Ophthalmol., 101, 371-5 (1983).
  7. Mäntyjärvi M, Tuppurainen K. Cataract in traffic. Graefe's Arch Clin Exp Ophthalmol., 1999, 237, 278-82.
  8. Johnson CA, Keltner JL. Incidence of visual field loss in 20.000 eyes and its relationship to driving performance. Arch Ophthalmol., 101, 371-5 (1983)

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