There has been increasing pressure on the government and the DVLA in recent years to raise awareness of the laws surrounding vision and driving and to tighten the regulations on visual standards for driving. Why – because 2900 road casualties a year are caused by drivers having poor vision.
“2900 road casualties a year are caused by drivers having poor vision”
The current driving eyesight rules are that a driver must be able to read a number plate at 20meters away on a clear day. You can wear glasses or contact lenses. This level of vision can be easily checked by your optometrist. The equivalent vision on an Optician’s letter chart – a Snellen chart – is 6/12, binocularly (both eyes open). There is also a requirement for our vision to be wide and clear enough to meet the legal visual standard. This means that there is no major obstruction in the area of vision that we can see-called our field of vision. Obstructions in our field of vision can form with certain eye conditions and general health conditions – such as glaucoma, stroke and diabetes. Also, double vision, know as diplopia, is illegal when driving.
The DVLA have an a-z list of medical conditions that could affect your driving. You can check this list here:
You are permitted to have one eye with poor vision or blindness, such as a lazy eye, called amblyopia. This means that if you have a diagnosed eye condition that affects just one of your eyes, you can still drive as long as the other eye can read a number plate from 20 meters away, on a clear day and there is no double vision.
“Vision for driving is formally tested at a practical driving test and after that, the onus is on the driver to ensure that they have good vision and can meet the minimum vision required for driving before getting behind the wheel”
For lorry and bus drivers, the vision rules for driving are stricter. For this group of drivers, there is no number plate test. Lorry and bus drivers must have vision equivalent or better than 6/7.5 in their best eye, measured on an Opticians chart, a Snellen chart, and vision equivalent or better than 6/60 in their worse eye. Glasses or contact lenses are permitted to reach this requirement, but lorry and bus drivers must also have a prescription of no more than + or – 8.00D. There are stricter rules on the total area of vision that this group of drivers must be able to see to drive legally. Lorry and bus driver must have formal vision testing with an optometrist or medical doctor at regular intervals, as determined by the DVLA, to maintain their driving licenses.
If an individual suspects that they do not meet the minimum vision level for driving, they should book an appointment with an optometrist who can advise if they do meet the legal vision standard for driving. Most commonly, individuals do meet the standards. Where not, often a simple solution is needing to wear glasses or contact lenses for driving. If the minimum vision standard for driving cannot be met, your optometrist can advise what to do next. Your optometrist will not share information directly with the DVLA unless the circumstances are extreme. The individual should notify the DVLA who will then offer formal testing of vision. Note that your licence may be temporarily revoked until they receive the results of this formal vision for driving test. If you have a general health condition that could affect your ability to drive, such as stroke, epilepsy or diabetes, your GP can advise on notifying the DVLA. If you have a diagnosed eye condition, ask your consultant Ophthalmologist for advice on notifying the DVLA. Note that the legal onus remains on you as the individual to ensure that you meet the vision standards for driving, not your health care professional. You can be prosecuted if you do not meet the vision requirements for driving.
Some individuals are aware that their vision is not good enough for driving and choose to drive anyway, but many are completely unaware that they no longer meet the vision driving requirements, often because their vision has deteriorated slowly with time, which can be more difficult to detect. This teamed with a low awareness of the visual standard to read a number plate at 20 meters away on a clear day, leads to individuals driving illegally. A recent study found that 50% of Optometrists had come across one or more individuals that knew they not meet the driving standard, but said they would continue to drive anyway, during a one month period.
“A recent study found that 50% of Optometrists had come across one or more individuals that knew they not meet the driving standard”
In summary, it is currently our own responsibility to check that our vision meets the legal driving standards for driving. The best way to check this is to have regular eye examinations, which can identify and treat blurred vision and eye conditions earlier, as well as regularly checking that you can read a number plate 20 meters from us, on a clear day.