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Road Safety: Eye Tests

Volume 776: debated on Monday 31 October 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to encourage drivers to have their sight checked regularly in the interest of road safety.

My Lords, I declare my interests, which are in the register, and beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency’s driving licence application form makes clear the importance of meeting the required eyesight standards. The Department for Transport also makes clear the eyesight standards for driving in its leaflets and forms, as well as on the GOV.UK website. The department supports the NHS recommendation that adults should have their eyes tested every two years. This advice was promoted through a communication campaign in 2013, supported by the BMA, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and Brake.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Given that in 2014 the driver eyesight survey estimated that crashes resulting from poor driver vision caused 2,900 casualties in the UK per year and that three-quarters of the adult population require either contact lenses or glasses, will the Government do more to alert drivers of the dangers of not getting their eyesight tested regularly, and can consideration be given to using motorway electronic signs to display this message? Road safety week starts on 21 November. Would that not be an excellent time to start running a trial to establish whether these actions have a beneficial effect?

I congratulate the noble Viscount. He has been a vociferous and devoted campaigner for road safety, and I know that he recently received an award from the Police Federation recognising his achievements and service in this area. Highways England uses electronic variable message signs but, as the noble Viscount is aware, these are intended primarily to advise drivers of immediate safety issues and journey information. With regard to road safety week, we are intending, with Highways England, to use other forms of media, such as social media, to promote the importance of getting your eyes tested.

Is my noble friend aware that in Switzerland, where my cousin lives, if you are over 70 you have to retake your test every two years? If you are over 80, you have to retake it every year, including an eye test and a full medical. Would he not consider something along those lines?

It is always useful to hear personal anecdotes. I actually had my eyes tested on Saturday, and I passed. Turning to my noble friend’s question, the UK has one of the greatest road safety records. People aged 70 are required to sit the test to renew their licence for another three years, and we provide other services through DVLA. Pilots are also being taken up, including with GP practices in Birmingham, to raise awareness of eye tests, particularly for those over 70.

My Lords, I want to ask about people who have perfectly good eyesight but who choose to use it to look at their mobile phones while driving. In 2014, mobile phone use was a contributory factor in 492 accidents, 21 of which were fatal, and an RAC survey has shown a steep increase in mobile phone use at the wheel since then. Do the Government intend to increase the penalties for these drivers, and to provide funding to deal with the 27% drop in dedicated roads policing officers since 2010?

As the noble Baroness may be aware, the Government have already taken action in this respect and increased the penalties for mobile phone use while driving. I am sure the whole House will be aware of the news today of the sentencing of the driver who caused the tragic death of a mother and three young children. Our thoughts are of course with the family. The noble Baroness raises an important point and the Government continue to look at how we can work across the board with all industry players to underline the importance of educating people. Yes, mobile phones have a role to play, but not while people are driving.

My Lords, it is good to hear that the Minister has had his eyes tested, but does he accept that one of the problems—which may also be true in his case—is that in the routine eye test, changes in conditions between darkness and light are not tested properly? One of the real issues with older people is that, particularly as cataracts form, their visual acuity may be unchanged but they are unable to accommodate in dark situations, which is when accidents are most likely to happen. Can the eye test perhaps include that in future?

The noble Lord speaks from great experience in this regard and I will certainly take his suggestion back. I found that my recent eye test was thorough in every respect, but the department and I will reflect on his point about those who are older.

Following the supplementary question asked by my noble friend Lord Simon, how many fatal road accidents per year do the Government accept can be attributed in part or wholly to the eyesight of one or more of the parties involved in the accident being below the standard required to pass the driving test?

I shall write to the noble Lord on the specifics, but as I have said, our safety standards have led to one of the lowest comparative figures across Europe for such accidents, and the Government are looking at how they can work with the medical profession. The pilot in Birmingham that I referred to consists of 113 surgeries where people can talk to their general practitioners about the need for an eye test and nominate themselves to get their eyes tested. Indeed, GPs are also looking at how their duty of care can be extended where someone refuses or is unable to report their eyesight deficiency to the DVLA.

My Lords, the Minister implied in an earlier response that from the age of 70 drivers are expected to take a retest and then do so subsequently every three years. In fact, it is not a driving test as we understand it: it is just a question of filling in forms saying that you do not have certain diseases. Can he please correct his statement?

The noble Countess is quite correct. I was talking about people having their driving licence renewed after reaching the age of 70, and as I am sure noble Lords know, it is on a three-year basis and the noble Countess is right to point out that it is a specific declaration made by drivers themselves. But as I have intimated, we are looking into how we can work with health practitioners, particularly GPs, to make self-nomination work more effectively.