Sheffield Heeley MP Meg Munn has been awarded Brake and Direct Line's Road Safety Parliamentarian of the Month Award for her campaign to introduce regular eye tests for drivers.
In 2009, Meg was contacted by constituent Joy Barnes whose niece Fiona Buckley was run over and killed while crossing the road in 2008 by a driver with defective eyesight (see case study below).
This moved Meg to start a campaign for driver eye tests to be carried out by qualified practitioners using a scientifically-recognised method – instead of the current limited number-plate test – and for drivers to be re-tested at least every 10 years, at the same time as applying for a new licence photocard. The campaign also aims to raise awareness among drivers of the importance of getting their eyes tested at least every two years.
Over the past two years, Meg has lobbied government, asking questions in Parliament and leading debates. The campaign has received support from national organisations including Brake, Eye Health Alliance, Specsavers and The Optical Confederation, who recognise the evidence that the current regime is inadequate in protecting the public from drivers with defective eyesight .
In February 2011 the government announced proposals to make the current test even easier, by reducing the distance from which drivers have to read a number-plate to just 17 metres. Read Brake's response to the consultation. Meg responded by working with Brake to call on the government to abandon its proposals and listen to public demand for regular eyesight testing. Read more.
During National Eye Health Week, June 2011, Meg secured a Parliamentary debate on driver eyesight testing. Meg was disappointed with the response as the Minister defended current arrangements, although the debate helped to raise awareness of the issue among MPs.
Meg has also asked Road Safety Minster Mike Penning several questions in Parliament. In September Meg asked if he would conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the replacement of the number-plate test with a comprehensive eye test by a qualified practitioner when taking their driving test and at 10 year intervals. The Minister responded by stating that the government has no plans to do so.
Meg argues the cost of implementing regular, comprehensive eyesight tests would be minimal. However, the benefits would be great, providing reassurance that drivers meet minimum standards to drive safely and helping to prevent crashes and casualties, which are devastating to families and a huge cost burden on emergency services and the NHS .
During Road Safety Week 2011, coordinated by Brake, Meg carried out a media campaign urging drivers to consider whether their eyesight would meet the minimum requirements, including through an interview on BBC Radio Sheffield and coverage in the Sheffield Star and Sheffield Telegraph.
Meg intends to continue to lobby the government until appropriate action is taken to ensure all drivers have the required standard of eyesight for driving on UK roads.
Julie Townsend, Brake campaigns director, said: "As a charity that supports families devastated by road deaths and injuries, we recognise how vital it is to ensure all drivers have good eyesight. Being able to see clearly is fundamental to safe, responsible driving. We hope to see common sense winning through: to make our roads safer we need a scientific eyesight test carried out at the start of your driving career and regularly throughout it. We would like to thank Meg for her continued hard work pushing this vital issue."
Meg Munn MP said: "I'm delighted to have been awarded Road Safety Parliamentarian of the month. Having your eyes tested is such a simple thing, and we know it saves lives. I'd encourage all drivers to have their eyes tested regularly."
Fiona Buckley, 43, was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, so spent much of her adult life in a wheelchair. She was a bubbly person who loved nothing more than chatting to people. She worked in the city centre Shop Mobility Service and the Royal Hallamshire Hospital as a welcomer. In her younger days Fiona was an accomplished swimmer and later became an avid photographer and scrabble player. Her family describe Fiona as a generous and courageous spirit.
On 6 December 2008, Fiona was crossing the road with her friend Kay Pilley, 46, walking just behind. Witnesses said that driver Raymond Hampshire, 87, did not attempt to overtake them or brake. He ran straight into Fiona and Kay as they were approaching the other side, and Fiona was thrown over his car. She suffered a major head injury and broke her pelvis, spine and leg. She died in hospital six weeks later from multi-organ failure. Kay suffered head and knee injuries. She could not remember what happened.
Police tested Hampshire's eyesight and he could not read a car number plate from the required distance of 20.5 metres. He was later found to have cataracts in both eyes which had probably been there for 18 months. A doctor said it would give him "foggy or hazy" sight which could have rendered Fiona almost invisible to him. He also suffered from macular degeneration, which blurs the central vision. With his right eye he could only see from six metres what people with good vision can read from 24 metres.
Hampshire admitted causing death by careless driving. However, the judge decided not to punish Hampshire for killing Fiona. He was given just three penalty points.
Fiona's Aunt, Joy Barnes from Sheffield, said: "Fiona's death hit us all hard. Hampshire should not have been on the roads with such poor eyesight and it is a travesty that nothing is done to make sure that drivers meet a minimum standard of sight. If this driver had been made to have a sight test to keep his licence then Fiona would still be with us."
Brake's advice for drivers on eyesight:
- Get your eyes tested at least every two years, even if you think your eyesight is perfect. Your eyesight can deteriorate without you noticing.
- If you notice deterioration, get tested straight away.
- This applies to all ages, but is especially important if you are over 50, when eyesight is more likely to deteriorate
- If you are taking medication or suffer from any medical conditions, check with your doctor or optometrist if it could affect your driving or vision.
If you need glasses or contact lenses:
- Never drive without them, and keep them clean. Keep a spare pair in your vehicle if you are prone to forget.
- Choose glasses with thin or no rims, which give you a greater field of vision.
- Choose glasses with anti-reflective coating, which can help reduce glare at night.
- If you wear glasses, keep a pair of prescription sunglasses in your vehicle.
- Avoid 'night-driving glasses'. There is no evidence that they help and they may actually make vision worse.
- Avoid wearing tinted glasses at night-time or during bad weather.
 See Eye Health Alliance, 2011