Driver advice: eyesight and health

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Drivers can pledge to – get their eyes tested at least every two years, or straight away if they notice a problem, and wear glasses or lenses at the wheel if they need them. They can pledge to never drive on medication that affects driving.

Everyone can pledge to – look out for friends and loved ones by ensuring they only drive if they're fit for it.

If you drive, it’s probably the most complex and dangerous tasks that you’ll do on a regular basis, so it is vital your eyesight and general health is up to the task. Poor vision, ill health, some medications or stress can significantly affect your ability to drive safely, putting lives at risk.

Learn more: Try out Brake’s 'Sharpen up' interactive resource, sponsored by Specsavers, to see the importance of regular eye tests for drivers.

Sharpen up: driver eyesight

eyesight1Your eyesight can deteriorate significantly without you realising it – it’s possible to lose 40% of your vision before noticing [1]. That’s why it’s vital for drivers to get their eyes tested with an optician at least every two years, or straight away if you think there might be a problem. You must also notify the DVLA of any conditions that affect both eyes.

The law says you must be able to read a number plate from 20 metres to drive, so you have a responsibility to make sure this is the case. However, the ‘number plate test’ only checks your visual acuity (vision over distance), and not your visual field or contrast sensitivity – both important for safe driving – so it should never be used as a substitute for a professional test.

If you need glasses or lenses, don’t drive without them. In the UK, doing so is punishable by a fine of up to £1,000 and a driving ban. If you are prone to forget, keep a spare pair of glasses in your vehicle just in case.

Your health

It is your responsibility to notify the DVLA if you develop a condition that could impair your driving. Failure to do so can result in a fine and driving ban or prosecution if you cause a crash. If you suspect you have developed a condition, seek medical advice immediately. Check the DVLA’s guidance on health conditions and driving for advice.

Brake advises that older drivers get at least annual health checks, and ask the doctor’s advice on their fitness to drive. As an alternative to driving, older people are entitled to free off-peak bus travel across the UK.

Medication

NotADrop-PillsIt is an offence to drive, or attempt to drive, while unfit through medication. If you are taking medication, check the label or information leaflet to see if it could affect your driving. If the label warns that your driving could be affected, or it could make you drowsy, or not to drive if you feel drowsy, err on the side of caution and don’t drive: it is impossible to accurately gauge yourself if you’re impaired. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you are unsure.

Never drive if the label or a health professional recommends that you don't, or says you could be affected, or if you feel drowsy or slow.

If your medication affects your driving, stop driving, not your medication – make arrangements for alternative transport, or if you need to drive seek an alternative medication. In some cases, stopping your medication could pose additional risks, including while driving.

Natalie’s story

Natalie Wade, 28, from Rochford, Essex, was killed by a partially sighted driver in February 2006. She was knocked down on a pedestrian crossing, along with her mother, Christine Gutberlet, by 78 year old John Thorpe. Christine survived, but Natalie suffered severe brain damage from which she died in intensive care on Valentine's Day. The bride-to-be was shopping for her wedding dress when she was hit.

Driver John Thorpe was blind in one eye and had 40 defects in the other, but had not declared his sight problems to the DVLA. He died of natural causes before his trial could be completed. The inquest returned a verdict of unlawful killing. Natalie's aunt, Revd Brenda Gutberlet, said: “Natalie's death, like so many on our roads, was completely avoidable. The question every driver should ask before they get behind the wheel is: am I fit to drive today? But not everyone is honest with themselves. To get behind the wheel of a vehicle unable to see shows a disregard for the lives of others, and it can't be right that we still allow drivers to do so."

[1] World Glaucoma Day, International Glaucoma Association and Royal National Institute for the Blind, 2009

[2] The contribution of individual factors to driving behaviour: implications for managing work-related road safety, Health and Safety Authority, 2002

Page updated June 2015