March 6, 2020

Is Your Eyesight Good Enough to Drive?

Eyesight For Driving: A Simple Guide

Eyesight is an essential factor in road safety, but research by National Eye Health Week estimates that there are nine million drivers on Britain’s roads with vision that falls below the legal standards for driving.

Accidents involving a driver with poor vision are estimated to cause 3,000 casualties and cost £33 million in the UK per year.

Don’t risk your life or your licence

Eyesight is important, no more so than when you’re driving. However, are you aware of the sight levels required to drive, and do you know that you meet them? Read on to find out what the legal vision and driving standards are, and how to make sure you’re safe to drive.

The information here is generally for those who drive cars or ride motorcycles. Bus and HGV licence holders have to meet even higher standards and have rules governing both the strength of corrective glasses and their field of vision. Find out more here.

eyesight for driving statistics

Is my eyesight good enough to drive?

According to the road safety charity Brake, around 3,000 injuries every year in the UK are caused by drivers with poor eyesight, so it’s crucial to be sure that your vision is good enough or, if not, is corrected by glasses or contact lenses as necessary.

It’s not just being a bit short sighted that can be a problem; field of vision, night vision, contrast sensitivity and other visual functions can all compromise safe driving.

There are three main points at which your eyesight will be tested for driving: when you take your driving test, a police roadside eye test, and at your optician visit.

Driving test

When you take the driving test, the very first thing the examiner will do is to ask you to read a number plate of the car parked in front of you. You’ll be sitting at 20 metres (five car lengths) behind it and you must be able to read the car number plate precisely – wearing glasses or contact lenses if necessary is fine. If you can’t read the plate, you’ll fail the test there and then, and your provisional licence will be revoked.

When you apply for your licence again, the DVLA will ask you to have an eyesight test carried out by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), which will be done at the driving test centre. If you pass, you still must be able to pass the number plate reading test on your next driving test.

Once you have your licence, it’s your responsibility to ensure that you can pass this 20 metres driving eye test at all times. You also have to be able to see clearly out of the corners of your eyes, at night and not have uncontrolled double vision.

Police check

If a driver fails the roadside driver’s eye test, and the police officer deems the driver to be unsafe, they could receive a ban. Here’s an extract from the relevant legislation:

Driving with uncorrected defective eyesight

(1) If a person drives a motor vehicle on a road while his eyesight is such (whether through a defect which cannot be or one which is not for the time being sufficiently corrected) that he cannot comply with any requirement as to eyesight prescribed under this Part of this Act for the purposes of tests of competence to drive, he is guilty of an offence.

(2) A constable having reason to suspect that a person driving a motor vehicle may be guilty of an offence under subsection (1) above may require him to submit to a test for the purpose of ascertaining whether, using no other means of correction than he used at the time of driving, he can comply with the requirement concerned.

(3) If that person refuses to submit to the test, he is guilty of an offence.

Regular eyesight tests

Having regular sight tests – once every two years unless advised otherwise by your optician – and, if necessary, wearing glasses or contact lenses whenever you drive is vital to keeping you safe and reducing the risk of accident, injury or damage to others on the road.

It’s essential that you get your vision checked if you notice any changes.

It’s easy to get an eyesight test at your local optician – it’s inexpensive and you may even qualify for a free test. Lots of free offers are on the internet, so have a look for the ones local to you and, in Scotland, eyesight tests are free for everyone.

Even if you don’t have any concerns about your sight, it’s still important to have regular checks, as the optician can spot many general health problems and early signs of eye conditions before you’re aware of any symptoms, many of which can be treated if found early enough.

woman having eye test

How do you know if you need glasses for driving?

This might seem obvious, but it’s not always straightforward as changes in vision can creep up gradually and particularly as you age. For most people, changes begin with a very gradual decline in vision.

Some early signs that your sight may be changing are:

  • Experiencing eye strain

  • Unusual headaches

  • Feeling pressure behind the eye

  • Double vision

  • Needing a brighter light to read

  • Noticing halos around lights

  • Difficulty seeing at night or in changing light

If you are at all unsure, you should consult an optician and get an examination.

What is the legal eyesight standard for driving UK?

UK driving law says

You don’t need to notify the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) if:

  • You’re short or long-sighted, but you must wear glasses or contact lenses every time you drive if you need them to satisfy the government standards of vision for driving.
  • You’re colour blind.
  • You’ve had surgery to correct your short sightedness and you now meet the necessary standards of vision for driving.
  • You only have sight in one eye (monocular vision) and its vision is unimpaired or corrected by glasses or contacts.

You do need to notify DVLA if you have a specific problem which affects both of your eyes (or the remaining one if you only have one). This could include:

  • The sharpness of your vision (visual acuity)
  • Any condition which creates a blind spot in one or both eyes (a visual field defect). These can be temporary or permanent and can be caused by a variety of things including glaucoma, disease or damage to the retina at the back of the eye (retinopathy) and even some drugs.
  • Tunnel Vision, which is the loss of vision at the edges of your eyesight while the central portion remains normal.
  • You’ve had treatment to the retina at the back of your eye, and your doctor says it may affect your driving.

These are just some of the conditions you may need to notify DVLA about. You can find more information here.

Other health issues affecting driving

If your eyesight’s ok, but you’re worried that something else may affect your driving, have a look out for our upcoming post on other health issues which may have a bearing.

Also, see our Road Safety Week post for information on other road safety matters.