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Life-changing ‘specs checks’ could also be life-saver for drivers

PUBLISHED: 08:21 20 November 2017 | UPDATED: 08:21 20 November 2017

Eyesight deteriorates gradually and often we don’t notice how bad it is getting. Picture: PA

Eyesight deteriorates gradually and often we don’t notice how bad it is getting. Picture: PA


With the Association of Optometrists calling for a law change on eyesight tests for drivers, motoring editor Andy Russell recalls how he found out he needed glasses.

Poor eyesight, like old age, is something that creeps up, often catching us unawares. But it is wrong to assume they go hand in hand.

Eyesight can deteriorate at any age and does not just affect old people.

It was a point I was anxious to make when invited on to Nick Conrad’s BBC Radio Norfolk breakfast show this week to talk about the Association of Optometrists calling for a change in the law that requires all motorists to prove their eyesight meets legal standards every 10 years. A third of optometrists, who diagnose visual impairments and prescribe contact lenses and glasses, have seen patients continue to drive despite being told they are below the legal standard.

The problem is in the UK is that we rely on people’s honesty in reporting they have a sight problem, and taking action later in life, having only had to read a number plate as part of the initial driving test.

I can still read a number plate from 20 metres in good light but would not dream of driving without glasses. And there’s the rub because it’s often when the light starts to go that eyesight problems show up. Eyesight deteriorates gradually so often we are not aware we can’t see as well as we did or should.

I’ve told before of my wife complaining that the headlights of our car were not as bright as they used to be, despite me finding nothing wrong with them, and then she drove me at 40mph in a 60mph limit because it was too dark to go faster... err, no it wasn’t. Her eyesight was still legal to drive but she she was alarmed to find how much her prescription had changed in a year since her last eye test.

My wife was early 50s at the time but I was 10 years younger when I found I needed glasses for driving, not just reading and computer work. Again my eyesight was above the minimum legal requirement but a friend asked why I slowed down whenever I approached one of those large roadside direction boards. I had not realised I did but, at 60mph, by the time I was close enough to see it properly I was past before I could read it all.

With varifocal glasses – life-changing for me, potentially life-saving for other road users I encountered – a simple problem, but a serious hazard, was solved.

We’re all different, there’s no age at which you suddenly need glasses so please be honest with yourself. If you think you can’t see as well as you did, then get your eyes tested.

Have a look at your family – do relatives wear specs? At what age did they need them?

Can you see lights clearly or do they appear starry? That was another warning sign for me.

The need for regular ‘specs checks’ was highlighted driving into Norwich in the dark for that early breakfast show when I spotted a pedestrian stupidly dressed in black clothing walking along the side of the road. Even with my glasses, I saw him late but could still avoid him – wonder if I would have without my glasses on? After all, I can read a number plate at 20 metres but that’s also avoiding the issue.

Were you shocked to find you need glasses for driving? What do you think about compulsory eye tests? Email motoring@archant.co.uk

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