An Optometrist's Thoughts on Vision for Driving

According to a recent proposal by the Ministry of Transport NZ Drivers may soon be renewing their licences online. Convenient and undoubtedly a huge saving, but with the important change that drivers would renew without vision tests. So what does an optometrist think?

This new proposal will still require first time licence holders, and those over the age of 75, to take an eye test. This seems sensible to me. But for the years in between drivers would make a declaration that they are not aware that their vision has deteriorated since their last renewal, or any deterioration is being managed by wearing corrective or contact lenses. 

It is quite common for people to present for an eye examination and be unaware of deficits in their eyesight. Changes occur gradually so can easily go unnoticed. If we accept there should be a standard for eyesight for drivers, then I think it should be checked at regular intervals. Remember the majority of drivers are tested successfully at AA using a vision screening test. This is straight forward, and when carried out by trained AA staff, it is a cost effective way of testing vision across the general population.

Driver licensing is a key element of road safety. To get a licence, we have to prove we know how to drive safely and follow road rules. Good vision is important for safe driving and most other countries similar to ours require a vision check before you get onto the road. This seems fair and reasonable!

What is under review is the need (and benefit) of checking vision every ten years; apparently we in New Zealand are unique in this requirement. Good vision is important for safe driving but requirements for repeated vision testing may be unnecessary? Policies about re-testing vision at licence renewal vary. New Zealand is one of four places in Australasia that requires vision testing at every licence renewal. Many others only have age-related vision testing starting between ages 70 and 80. 

There were two studies to examine the safety benefits of vision testing. In the first study we examined the crash rates of a sample of over 7,400 drivers who failed a vision check at a licensing agent and were then required to wear contacts or glasses while driving. The crash rates of these drivers before and after failing the vision check and being required to wear contacts or glasses were virtually the same. In the second study the crash rates of drivers in the three-year period before they renewed their licences was studied. Again there was no difference between the crash rates of drivers who failed the eyesight test at renewal and those who passed. For more information see Eye Sight Crash Test Study.

 Like all reform we have to weigh up the risks of reducing regulation. I think testing eyesight before we get onto the road is sensible, and re-testing when we renew our licence is a smart idea as well.

LTSA Discussion Document.

Claire McDonald - Optometrist