Driving and Eyesight


Driver eyesight

  • Road crashes involving a driver with poor vision are estimated to cause 2,900 casualties and cost £33 million in the UK per year;
  • In the UK, about three quarters of adults are estimated to make use of corrective eyewear or have had laser eye surgery;
  • Eyesight can decline gradually and unnoticed, with people losing up to 40% of their visual acuity without being aware of deterioration.

Good eyesight is a basic requirement for safe driving. Poor vision increases the risk of collisions due to the driver’s inability to recognise and react in time to a hazard or the behaviour of other road users.

However, poor vision is believed to be massively underreported in government crash causation data due to the difficulty in determining if eyesight was to blame. Some casualties are likely to occur because drivers are unaware they have a vision problem and have neither corrected it nor reported it to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). Untreated eye conditions can occur gradually over time. In extreme cases, someone can lose up to 40% of their vision without being aware they have a problem.

Estimates from the Royal College of Optometrists suggests 2-3% of drivers have vision below the minimum standard.

Eye testing

Because eyesight can decay without noticing, experts recommend having a professional eye test at least every two years or straight away if a problem arises.

A professional eye test checks vision over distance, as well as other visual defects, including problems seeing things in the central or peripheral vision. Visual field defects can be caused by illnesses such as glaucoma, retinal disease or cataracts.

Drivers with visual field defects have double the incidence of road crashes and traffic violations compared to drivers with a full visual field, and almost half people with visual field loss are unaware of the problem.

But despite this, many drivers do not get their eyes tested regularly or even at all. A study by the College of Optometrists found that one in 20 people aged above 40 said they had not been for a sight test for at least 10 years or could not recall when they last went.

Going to the optician needn’t be expensive and may be free:

  • Eye sight tests are free in the UK if you are under 16, over 60, claiming certain benefits, or if you have certain medical conditions;
  • Employers who require their workers to regularly use computer screens for significant periods are obliged to pay for their eye tests on request, under the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992;
  • Employees who drive for work may also have arrangements in place with their employers for free or discounted eye tests.

Vision problems

Vision problems are common. It has been estimated that almost three quarters (74%) of the UK population either use glasses or contact lenses, or have had laser eye surgery to correct their vision. Long- or short-sightedness are common conditions affecting eyesight in the UK, and can affect anyone at any age.

Several health conditions 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.

Cataracts: This is when a clouding develops in the lens of the eye. Depending on its severity it can cause glare, short sightedness, double vision, and in severe cases, blindness. Cataracts are very common in older people: more than half of people aged 65 and over have some cataract development. Often it is safe to drive with cataracts and it is not a legal requirement to inform the DVLA if the driver meets the minimum standards for driving.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD): A disease resulting in damage to the retina, causing loss of the centre of your vision. It can occur in one or both eyes. It is often possible to slow down AMD with medical treatment, so it is vital to have frequent eye tests to catch this disease in the early stages. AMD is the most common cause of poor sight in people over 60.

Glaucoma: A condition that damages the optic nerve. The most common form is chronic glaucoma, which develops slowly and painlessly, so the sufferer will not usually notice there is a problem until vision is significantly impaired. It is therefore vital to have frequent eye tests to catch this disease in the early stages. Drivers with glaucoma must notify the DVLA and inform them of their condition.

Double vision (diplopia): A variety of underlying causes or conditions can cause a person to see two images of a single object either some or all of the time. It is usually possible to cure this condition with treatments ranging from eye exercises to surgery. Drivers who develop diplopia must not drive and must immediately inform the DVLA.

Other health conditions and factors can affect eyesight, including:

  • Diabetes: Sufferers are at higher risk of eyesight problems and in some cases it can lead to blindness, this should be reported to the DVLA;
  • Heart disease: Can lead to loss of vision, visual field defects, or double vision, drivers with these symptoms should inform the DVLA and avoid driving where possible;
  • Migraines: Can cause vision disturbances, including partial loss of vision, double vision, blurriness and seeing flashing lights;
  • Tiredness and some medication: These can cause eyesight to become blurred or otherwise poor; and
  • Ageing: Vision begins to deteriorate more rapidly at approximately 50 years of age, particularly night-time vision.