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Eyesight and Driving

As a driver, having good eyesight is vital to ensure you are not endangering yourself or other road users. Driving with poor or impaired eyesight not only puts other motorists at risk of having a road traffic accident, but is also against the law and could result in a fine, penalty points on your licence or even a ban from driving.

Legal Requirements

There are strict rules regarding driving and eyesight in Britain. Anyone who wishes to drive a vehicle must be able to see clearly at a certain distance in order to be considered safe to drive.

All learner drivers are therefore required to pass a basic eyesight test before they are allowed to take their practical driving test. This involves being able to read a car number plate on a stationery vehicle from a distance of 20.5 metres. For the new-style number plates (introduced on 1 September 2001), the distance requirement is 20m.

Learners are given three opportunities to prove to the examiner they can read the number plate correctly*. If after three attempts they fail to answer correctly and meet the required eyesight standard, they will not be allowed to continue the practical driving test and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) will be notified of the practical test failure on the eyesight requirement. Learners must then pass a separate eyesight test before they can attempt the standard eyesight check and continue with the practical driving test.

*Learners who canít speak English or have difficulty reading are allowed to write down what they see.

Wearing glasses/contact lenses

Learners who need to wear glasses or corrective lenses for the eyesight test must ensure they wear them throughout the practical test and whenever they are driving. Learners risk failing their eyesight and practical test on the spot if they:

Under the current UK law, Britons who have passed their driving test and need glasses or contact lenses to see clearly must ensure they wear them when driving or else they could be fined up to £1,000, receive three penalty points or be disqualified from driving.

Informing the DVLA about eyesight conditions

When applying for a driving licence from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) individuals should inform the agency of any illness or condition they have which may affect their sight. This includes any visual condition that affects sight in one or both eyes (not including short or long sight or colour blindness), or if they only have sight in one eye. Applicants should also declare if they have had sight corrective surgery carried out.

Those who hold a full UK driving license and believe they have an eye condition which should be reported must complete a medical questionnaire and send it to the DVLA. The agency will then assess their case and decide whether it is safe for them to continue driving. If they decide that it isn't, the driverís licence will be revoked. For most cases, this will take less than a month.

General Eye Tests

Once an individual has passed their driving test they are not legally required to have an eye test for driving purposes until they are 70 years old, despite the fact that eyesight can start deteriorating from the age of thirty. Because of this, many people continue to drive for many years with less than adequate vision.

It is therefore recommended that all motorists have their eyesight tested once every two years to check whether it is safe for them to continue driving. As well as determining whether or not a person needs glasses or contact lenses to aid their vision, eyesight tests are also crucial for detecting serious conditions which may need immediate treatment, such as glaucoma and cataracts, and may also give clues about less common diseases.

Many people over the age of 60 may suffer from both glaucoma and cataracts Ė two of the most common eyesight conditions. Glaucoma occurs because of a problem with fluid draining from the eye, whereas cataracts cloud the lens of the eye, preventing much of the light from passing through.

Although the two diseases are unrelated, both are serious conditions that can lead to blindness if left untreated. While surgery can reverse the loss of vision from cataracts, vision loss from glaucoma is permanent and irreversible.