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Hgv Drivers: Vision Tests

Volume 568: debated on Monday 29 January 1996

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3.4 p.m.

Whether British drivers of heavy goods vehicles will, after 1st July, have to take vision tests, without their spectacles or contact lenses, when applying to renew their driving licences.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport
(Viscount Goschen)

My Lords, drivers of large goods and passenger-carrying vehicles are already required to pass a vision test in one eye, without corrective lenses, before obtaining or renewing their licence. From 1st July they will have to meet the standard in both eyes.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. It seems that the press report on 19th January overstated the likely effects of the EC directive and his reply should help to dispel misapprehensions. While safety must be paramount, would not a preferable regulation require reliable reserve spectacles to be instantly to hand in drivers' cabs since the danger foreseen arises from a sudden collapse of the spectacle or contact lenses being worn? Can we afford to lose the services of drivers with long and good records who can see perfectly with glasses?

My Lords, my noble friend makes the point that important road safety issues are involved. The real question is what happens in the event of an accident if a driver's glasses are dislodged? It might not always be possible to reach for the second pair in time. The directive is designed so that in the event of glasses being knocked off during an accident, or whatever, the driver will be able to bring the vehicle satisfactorily to a halt. That is the important consideration and I believe that these new requirements are the best way to achieve that.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that as regards the use of contact lenses it might be difficult to insert a new set if the originals are lost or misplaced as a result of an accident? Will the Minister indicate the basis on which the Government have apparently calculated that a small number of drivers, about 0.2 per cent., are likely to he affected by the new standards? Furthermore, is he able to suggest any method of compensation which might apply to drivers, in particular those who have been working for a long time, who have little opportunity of alternative employment if they are disqualified as a result of what, essentially, is a sensible new code?

My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord's support of the new requirement and we agree that there are important road safety issues. Compensation will be determinant on the terms of the individual driver's contract with his employer. The noble Lord was right about contact lenses. Trying to put on the spare pair of glasses after a lens has fallen out might make the situation worse. It is true that our estimate is that some 3,000 drivers—approximately 0.2 per cent. of the total—could be affected by the directive. That is based on our existing information and records.

My Lords, the Minister has not indicated how that information has been collated. He has dealt in part with the question of the employed driver but what about the self-employed driver who may have no such compensation available and whose business may be totally ruined?

My Lords, as with other health failings, if a driver falls below the required health standard it must be true that he must no longer be at the wheel of a large vehicle. We all know that substantial casualties can result from a heavy goods vehicle that is incorrectly driven. I can only reiterate that our estimate is based on the records that we hold and on advice and information from the Chief Medical Adviser.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the EC directive in question breaches the principle of subsidiarity, bearing in mind that in the United States, Canada and Australia different states and different provinces have different road traffic laws and regulations? Does not that demonstrate that the zealots in Brussels and Strasbourg are hell bent on creating not just a federal Europe, which would be bad enough, but a tightly centralised, standardised, unitary Europe?

My Lords, the noble Lord completely overstates the case. We believe that this is an extremely sensible measure which will result in better road safety.