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

6 August 2013

Brake, the road safety charity 

A campaign launched today calls on all drivers to sharpen up their act by getting 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 out today 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.

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

To raise awareness among drivers about their responsibilities, the DVLA is today launching an online education campaign.

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

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake, the road safety charity, said: "Being a driver is a huge responsibility, and means you need to look after your own health and fitness to drive as well as making sure your vehicle is roadworthy. If your vision isn't up to scratch you are posing an enormous risk on roads, as being able to see properly is fundamental to being a good driver. Your eyesight can deteriorate rapidly without you noticing, and at the wheel that can be lethal. That's why it is so important to get tested every two years and always wear glasses or lenses if you need them when driving.

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. It would help make our roads safer and prevent more tragedies."

Driver advice
Brake recommends all drivers get their eyes checked by an optician at least every two years, or straight away if they notice any problems. Always wear glasses or lenses when driving if you need them, even on short journeys. Keep a spare pair of glasses in your vehicle if you're prone to forget.

Regular visits to the opticians will also ensure you're looking after your eye health, and able to catch any early signs of eye disease so they can be treated before they become a major problem.

Legal requirements state that if your vision (with glasses or lenses if you need them) is below 6/12 (0.5) or your visual field is less than 120o, you need to inform the DVLA. Certain conditions, such as glaucoma or cataracts, also need to be reported to the DVLA, who will conduct an assessment to determine if you are safe to drive. Ask your optician for more advice or visit the DVLA's index to find out what must be reported.

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].

Read about Brake's Sharpen up campaign.

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

Brake is an independent road safety charity. Brake exists to stop the five deaths and 63 serious injuries that happen on UK roads every day and to care for families bereaved and seriously injured in road crashes. Brake runs awareness-raising campaigns, community education programmes, events such as Road Safety Week (18-24 November 2013), and a Fleet Safety Forum, providing advice to companies. Brake's support division cares for road crash victims through a helpline and other services.

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.

With a 300 year heritage, RSA is one of the world's leading multinational quoted insurance groups. RSA has major operations in the UK, Scandinavia, Canada, Ireland, Asia and the Middle East, Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe and has the capability to write business in around 140 countries. Focusing on general insurance, RSA has around 23,000 employees and, in 2012, its net written premiums were £8.4 billion.

Since 2011, RSA's 'Fit to Drive' campaign has worked to highlight the important issue of eye health and driver safety in the UK.

• 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 *those who have been on the Specsavers database and active in the past four years
• 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, 2012
[2] ibid
[3] Utton, T., Millions of motorists are driving blind, 2011. The Daily Mail.Available at:
[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).