Thought-provoking ‘Sharpen up’ interactive resource launched to highlight importance of eye tests for drivers

Friday 21 August 2015

Brake, the road safety charity 

Brake, the road safety charity, has produced a free interactive e-learning resource to highlight the importance of making sure your vision is up to scratch before getting behind the wheel. ‘Sharpen up’, developed in partnership with Specsavers, can be used by anyone who works with drivers, including: fleet professionals and employers; driving instructors; road safety professionals and emergency services; teachers; community leaders; and by individuals directly wanting to find out more about driver eyesight.

People with impaired vision are much more likely to be involved in a road crash, and are estimated to cause 2,900 casualties per year1. Eyesight can deteriorate rapidly without you noticing, hence experts recommend having an eyesight test at least every two years. A 2014 survey by Brake and Specsavers2 found that one in four (25%) drivers hadn’t had a vision test in the past two years; and 4% (the equivalent to more than 1.5 million UK drivers) had never had their eyes tested. A worrying one in eight (12%) who need glasses or contact lenses admitted driving without them.

Brake calls on all drivers to ensure that their vision is at a safe standard for driving, helping to keep themselves and others safe, through regular (at least two-yearly) eyesight tests and always wearing glasses or lenses if they’re needed. Brake also calls on the government to follow public opinion and introduce compulsory eyesight tests for drivers, a move favoured by almost nine in 10 (87%) people3.

The open-access ‘Sharpen up’ resource can be used to facilitate discussion and present the facts on the importance of drivers getting regular eye tests and maintaining good eye health, within a training session, lesson, workshop or online communications – especially by fleet managers, driving instructors and road safety professionals. Brake is especially encouraging professionals who work with older people to use the ‘Sharpen up’ resource to promote awareness of drivers’ responsibilities on fitness-to-drive issues.

Access the resource online now at

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive of Brake, said: “Making sure your vision is up to scratch is crucial to safe driving. It’s vital for drivers to get their eyes checked professionally at least every two years – eyesight can deteriorate rapidly without you noticing. Our new ‘Sharpen up’ e-learning resource shows people the dangers of driving with poor eyesight, encouraging them to make that vital trip to the opticians. The resource is a powerful tool that shows that if you drive, it’s not just your own health and safety that you are risking if you neglect to get your eyesight checked, but also the lives of the people around you. The resource is freely available to road safety practitioners, employers, driving instructors and educators to help them raise life-saving awareness.”

Paul Carroll, Specsavers’ director of professional services, said: “It’s important that we all recognise the importance of regular eye examinations and the role that they play in keeping both drivers and pedestrians safe on the roads. In many cases drivers’ eyesight is only tested once, on the day of their driving test. It is then the driver’s responsibility to check whether their vision remains above the legal standard. Because eyesight deteriorates gradually over time, the only way a driver can be 100% certain that they remain both legal and safe is to have regular eye examinations, which the ‘Sharpen Up’ tool should help encourage.”

The facts

Crash risk is heightened by poor vision4: if you cannot see well, you may not see a hazard or person in time to stop, or you may not be able to respond to the environment around you at all. Road crashes caused by poor driver vision are estimated to cause 2,900 casualties and cost £33 million in the UK per year5.

Vision problems are very common – almost three quarters (74%) of people in the UK either wear glasses or contact lenses, or have had laser eye surgery to correct their vision6. Long- or short-sightedness is the most common7, and can affect anyone at any age.

Drivers with visual field defects (problems seeing objects in their central or peripheral vision) 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 the problem8.

Several health conditions, including age-related macular degeneration, cataract and glaucoma, can cause serious and sometimes permanent damage to eyesight. These conditions are more common in people aged over 50, but can affect younger people too. They must be reported by drivers to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) in the UK9.


Brake’s campaigns

Through its Sharpen up campaign, Brake calls on drivers to help make our roads safer by getting their eyes tested at least every two years, even if they think their vision is perfect, or straight away if they notice a problem. Drivers who need glasses or lenses should always wear them at the wheel.

Brake is also calling on the government to make it compulsory for drivers to have a professional eye test before they start learning to drive, and at 10-year intervals at least after that, when renewing their photocard licence. At the same time, government should raise driver awareness of the importance of getting an eye test at least every two years, for example, by providing reminders when contacting drivers about renewing their vehicle excise duty (VED; formerly a tax disc).

About Brake

Brake is a national road safety charity that exists to stop the needless deaths and serious injuries that happen on roads every day, make streets and communities safer for everyone, and care for families bereaved and injured in road crashes. Brake promotes road safety awareness, safe and sustainable road use, and effective road safety policies. We do this through national campaigns, community education, services for road safety professionals and employers, and by coordinating the UK's flagship road safety event every November, Road Safety Week. Brake is a national, government-funded provider of support to families and individuals devastated by road death and serious injury, including through a helpline and support packs. Brake was founded in the UK in 1995, and now has domestic operations in the UK and New Zealand, and works globally to promote action on road safety.

Follow Brake on TwitterFacebook, or The Brake Blog. Follow Julie Townsend on Twitter.

Road crashes are not accidents; they are devastating and preventable events, not chance mishaps. Calling them accidents undermines work to make roads safer, and can cause insult to families whose lives have been torn apart by needless casualties.

About Specsavers

  • Specsavers was founded by Doug and Dame Mary Perkins in 1984 and is now the largest privately owned opticians in the world. The couple still run the company, along with their three children. Their son John is joint managing director
  • Specsavers has more than 1,600 stores throughout the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Spain, Australia and New Zealand
  • Total revenue for the Specsavers Group was £1.7 billion in 2011/2012
  • More than 20 million customers used Specsavers globally in 2011/2012. As of end March 2012, Specsavers had 16,138,076 customers in the UK and 928,582 customers in the Republic of Ireland
  • Specsavers optical stores and hearing centres are owned and run by joint venture or franchise partners. Together, they offer both optical and hearing services under one roof.
  • Specsavers employs more than 30,000 staff
  • Specsavers was voted Britain’s most trusted brand of opticians for the eleventh year running by the Reader’s Digest Trusted Brands survey 2012
  • More than one in three people who wear glasses in the UK buy them from Specsavers - 10,800,000 glasses were exported from the warehouse to stores in 2011
  • Specsavers was ranked No 1 for both eye tests and glasses in the UK
  • Specsavers sold more than 290 million contact lenses globally in 2011/12 and has more than a million customers on direct debit schemes. Specsavers' own contact lens brand - easyvision - is the most known on the high street
  • The hearcare business in the UK has established itself as the number one high street provider of adult audiology services to the NHS
  • Specsavers supports several UK charities including Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, Sound Seekers, the road safety charity Brake, the anti-bullying charity Kidscape and Vision Aid Overseas, for whom stores have raised enough funds to build a school of optometry in Zambia and open eyecare outreach clinics in much of the country

End notes

[1] Fit to Drive: a cost benefit analysis of more frequent eyesight testing for UK drivers, RSA Insurance Group plc, 2012

[2] Driver eyesight survey 2014, Brake and Specsavers

[3] Driver eyesight survey 2014, Brake and Specsavers

[4] Detailed cost-benefit analysis of potential impairment countermeasures: research in the framework of the European research programme IMMORTAL, SWOV Institute for Road Safety Research 2005

[5] Fit to Drive: a cost benefit analysis of more frequent eyesight testing for UK drivers, RSA Insurance Group plc, 2012

[6] Britain’s eye health in focus, College of Optometrists, 2013

[7] Sixth Sense Opticians Survey, YouGov, 2011 

[8] Incidence of visual field loss in 20,000 eyes and its relationship to driving performance, Archives of Ophthalmology, 1983

[9] Health conditions and driving,