• 12 people each week fail their driving test before it even starts because they can’t read a clean number plate from a distance of 20 metres
  • Over 8.9 million people haven’t had their eyes tested within the last two years, with 1.1 million people never having their eyes tested as an adult 

New analysis1 by Direct Line Motor Insurance reveals more than 134 drivers a week have their licence revoked by the DVLA because they can’t meet the minimum eyesight requirements to drive.  In the period from January 2017 to September 2019, this amounts to a total of 19,644 drivers no longer able to get behind the wheel due to poor eyesight.

It is not just experienced drivers that have issues with their eyesight either; on average 12 people a week fail their driving test before it even starts because they can’t read a clean number plate from a distance of 20 metres.  The DVLA requires drivers to be able to read (with glasses or contact lenses if necessary) a car number plate from 20 metres, have accurate vision3 to at least decimal 0.5 (6/12) measured on the Snellen scale and an adequate field of vision2.

With an estimated 8.9 million4 (21 per cent) of drivers admitting to not having their eyes tested in the last two years and 1.1 million (3 per cent) never having had their eyes tested at all, it is likely thousands of drivers are unaware they are not safe to be in charge of a vehicle because of poor vision.  Drivers can be fined up to £1,000 if they don’t inform the DVLA about a medical condition that affects their driving and could be prosecuted if involved in a collision as a result5.  Eye care professionals believe there should be stricter rules regarding eye check-ups, with 81 per cent of optometrists supporting a change in law so annual eye tests are made mandatory for drivers6.

Almost one in four (24 per cent) drivers would put their own life and that of others at risk by waiting until their licence was revoked rather than giving up driving voluntarily because their eyesight had deteriorated so badly they couldn’t drive safely.  People are also unwilling to report friends and family to the DVLA, allowing them to keep driving even if they thought they couldn’t see to drive safely.  Only four per cent of people have reported a friend or family member to the DVLA over concerns that their eyesight was too bad to drive.

Steve Barrett, head of motor insurance at Direct Line, commented: “If people do not have regular eye tests, they may not even realise their vision is impaired when they get behind the wheel, which leaves them a danger to themselves and other road users.

“A simple eye test, that takes a moment in time, can ensure drivers have the appropriate corrective glasses or contact lenses so that their vision is adequate to drive.”

Dr Nigel Best, clinical spokesperson for Specsavers said: “Our vision can deteriorate slowly, meaning it is sometimes difficult to detect a change ourselves but subtle variations can increasingly affect both perception and reaction time when driving. We welcome this research and hope it will make more road users aware of the risks they run by not having regular eye tests, whether it is potentially losing your driving license or worse, causing a collision on the road.

“It takes around 25 minutes for an optician to conduct a thorough vision and eye health check.  To take this simple step every two years or more, if recommended by your optician, isn’t an arduous task, particularly when you weigh up the potentially negative consequences of driving with impaired vision.”

Regional findings

Residents of Brighton are the least likely across the UK to regularly visit the optician, with a third (33 per cent) of people failing to have an eye test in the last two years.  Residents of Birmingham (30 per cent), Glasgow (30 per cent) and Leeds (30 per cent) are also risking driving without the right corrective lenses because they have failed to have their eyes tested in the last two years.

Table one:  Regional insight into how recently residents have had an eye test

City Percentage of residents who haven’t had an eye test in the last two years
Brighton 33 per cent
Glasgow 30 per cent
Leeds 30 per cent
Birmingham 29 per cent
Bristol 29 per cent
Newcastle 28 per cent
Plymouth 27 per cent
Edinburgh 26 per cent
Liverpool 26 per cent
Southampton 25 per cent
Norwich 23 per cent
Manchester 21 per cent
London 21 per cent
Sheffield 21 per cent
Belfast 18 per cent
Nottingham 15 per cent
Cardiff 13 per cent
  1. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request made to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency received in October 2019.  Weekly average established by analysing the period January 2017 – September 2019.
  2. https://www.gov.uk/driving-eyesight-rules
  3. Definition: Accurate vision / visual acuity – acuteness of the vision as determined by a comparison with the normal ability to define certain letters at a given distance, usually 20 feet (6 meters)
  4. Research conducted by Opinium among a nationally representative sample of 2,000 adults between 1st and 3rd October 2019
  5. https://www.gov.uk/health-conditions-and-driving
  6. Research conducted by PureProfile among a panel of 106 optometrists in September 2019