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Driving/eyesight - John C. Kirk

Jan. 9th, 2014

07:53 pm - Driving/eyesight

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Over on Twitter, the CTC commented on a recent court case:




My initial reaction was outrage: surely that would count as a deliberate act, if you know you need glasses but drive without them? However, it seems to be a bit more complicated than that. I don't know which newspaper that snippet came from (they didn't cite a source), but I've found some articles online:

* Short-sighted motorist who mowed down and killed dog-walker given 140 hours community service (The Telegraph)
* Driver who hit and killed journalist Laurence Gunn on Hampstead zebra crossing is sentenced to 140 hours of community work (Camden New Journal)
* Outrage as short-sighted driver who knocked down and killed pedestrian is freed (Daily Express)

The articles in The Telegraph and the Daily Express both include this quote from the judge:
"I suggest we will never know why you did not see the victim. It would have been desirable and prudent to wear specs. But there is nothing unlawful about that."

Both articles also say that the driver could only read a licence plate from 7 feet away (~= 2.1 metres), whereas the Government's driving eyesight rules say that you need to be able to read it from 20 metres away. Those rules also state:
"You must wear glasses or contact lenses every time you drive if you need them to meet the 'standards of vision for driving'."

The Camden New Journal article says:
"Mr Rashid, who is short-sighted, had been granted a licence on condition that he wore glasses but later passed sight tests without them."

Based on that, I assume that the driver's vision deteriorated after he'd passed his sight test, so he didn't realise that he needed to wear glasses to drive. In this case, that then led to tragic results. I'm not going to second-guess the judge in this case, but I think it's worth considering whether the current system needs to be changed.

At present, you have to pass an eyesight test as part of your driving test, but then that's it, and you never have to do that eyesight test again unless you lose your licence and have to repeat your driving test. Some organisations may insist on extra tests for their professional drivers, but there's no obligation for private drivers. Suppose that you want to exchange your paper driving licence for a photocard licence or renew your driving licence if you're 70 or over. You have to meet the minimum eyesight requirement, but you can also do both of those actions online, i.e. nobody will actually check whether your eyesight is good enough. You can also renew your driving licence online if you're under 70, and that page doesn't even mention the eyesight requirement at all.

I think it would make sense to insist on eye tests for drivers at least once every 10 years, i.e. people should have to produce evidence of that test when they renew their licence. This could work in a similar way to VED: your car needs an MOT certificate before you can get a new tax disk, and that's all cross-referenced online. In this case, maybe the police could run an event once a month where anyone could turn up with their (photocard) licence and do an eye test; the police could then update the central database for that driving licence number to show that you've passed. This would be similar to the existing cycle marking events where you can turn up with your bike and the police will mark it and enter it in their database.

I've also been thinking about theory tests. When I passed my driving test in 1994, there wasn't a separate theory test; the examiner would just ask a few questions about the Highway Code. By the time I took my motorbike test (in 2001) I had to do a theory test as well. So, I'm sure there are a lot of drivers on the road who've never had to take a theory test at all. Similarly, even if people have done that test, the Highway Code gets updated every few years. There are also some road markings which only appear in certain parts of the country, e.g. I see lots of single/double red lines in London but there aren't any in rural areas, so people who don't normally drive in London might not know what they mean.

Personally, I buy a new copy of the Highway Code each time it's updated. I also follow @HighwayCodeGB on Twitter, which is a useful way to get a "drip feed" reminder about rules that I might have forgotten. However, as with the eyesight tests, I think that retaking the theory test should be a prerequisite for renewing the driving licence. There are already test centres set up to provide this test, and I'm sure that more centres would open if there was demand for them (i.e. if the existing centres don't have enough capacity for all the extra tests).

If people aren't using their licence, they might prefer to let it lapse rather than deal with the time/expense of getting these extra tests, and I don't have a problem with that. However, I think that they should then need to resit the (practical) driving test as well as doing the eyesight/theory tests in order to resume the licence later. For that matter, maybe all drivers should have to repeat the practical test every 10 years as well.

So, who's with me on this?

Poll #1951462 Repeating tests

Should drivers have to repeat any tests on a regular basis?

Yes
3(60.0%)
No
2(40.0%)

If so, which tests?

Practical test
2(25.0%)
Theory test
3(37.5%)
Eyesight test
3(37.5%)

And how often (in years)?

Mean: 8.33 Median: 10 Std. Dev 2.36
0
0(0.0%)
5
1(33.3%)
10
2(66.7%)
15
0(0.0%)
20
0(0.0%)
25
0(0.0%)
30
0(0.0%)
35
0(0.0%)
40
0(0.0%)
45
0(0.0%)
50
0(0.0%)

Tags: ,

Comments:

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From:rjw1
Date:January 10th, 2014 08:10 am (UTC)
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the aritcle is from the metro.
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From:susannahf
Date:January 10th, 2014 08:30 am (UTC)
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I see your point, but your argument seems to assume that all these additional tests would be free, which they aren't. When did your optician last give you a free eye test? They usually cost about £20. The sight test for driving is easier to administer, so you might get away with that, but the other two - no chance.
Current prices for driving tests (for a car licence), according to https://www.gov.uk/driving-test-cost are £31 for the theory test and £62 for the practical test. That's nearly £100! Personally, I get annoyed that I have to pay £20 every 10 years to just get a new photo on my driving licence.
I think that adding in a lot of additional tests (especially when they cost money) will likely lead to one thing: more unlicensed drivers on the roads. And unlicensed drivers are, by definition, uninsured. This is a very bad thing, and, imho, considerably worse than the current situation.
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From:sammoore
Date:January 10th, 2014 09:50 am (UTC)
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As ever all the points I was going to make are put better by Susannahf. It's even worse when you get your D1 properly and have to have medicals, etc. It's almost impossible for less than £1000 and that assumes you have a vehicle to train in, let alone having to rent one for lessons.

Our roads are pretty safe. Sure, there are accidents but the biggest issue is unlicensed, uninsured drivers, I think that is where the priority should be.
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From:johnckirk
Date:January 10th, 2014 11:48 am (UTC)
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I agree that these tests would cost money, but I don't see that as a problem. For instance, a "First Aid at Work" qualification lasts for 3 years, and then people have to pay a training provider to do another assessment. (I don't know how much that costs, because SJA and the Red Cross don't have any prices on their websites.) Similarly, there's a trend towards having IT qualifications which expire after 3 years, e.g. CompTIA and Cisco; see my previous blog post for more details, but they typically cost about £100.

Back in 2007, I wondered whether the same logic should apply to academic exams, e.g. GCSEs: either repeat the exam every n years or take a higher exam (e.g. an A level) to keep the qualification valid. I no longer need to mention my GCSE French when I apply for jobs, but if it was important to a job then I can't claim to be anywhere near as fluent as I was back then.

I do sympathise with people who are on a tight budget, but an extra £10/year (if you do both tests every 10 years) shouldn't be too hard to budget for, particularly compared to the cost of fuel, insurance, etc. Since this is an area where mistakes get people killed, I think we (collectively) should be more restrictive about who is allowed to drive.
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From:susannahf
Date:January 10th, 2014 12:00 pm (UTC)
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SJA do have prices, if you look - £234 inc VAT for a requal.
Not that those are really comparable, since they're usually paid for by employers, not by individuals.

I think most people are capable of assessing whether a GCSE French taken 20 years ago is still relevant, based on the CV date, and work experience since then, so again, not really relevant to this argument.

It's all very well thinking about the "ideal", but PEOPLE WILL NOT DO THE EXAMS AND WILL STILL DRIVE. You will end up with uninsured, unlicenced drivers. Redesigning the system on the basis of one incident is not a good system. Proper risk assessment is what is needed. Not knee-jerk reactions, which is all I'm seeing here.
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From:johnckirk
Date:January 10th, 2014 12:56 pm (UTC)
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I completely agree that having unlicenced/uninsured drivers on the road is a bad thing.

I know that the police (at least in London) are making an effort to crack down on that, e.g. with Operation Cubo: every so often they do spot checks, and impound the vehicle if the driver isn't licenced/insured. This included a few flashy cars, e.g. a Ferrari in 2012 and a Lamborghini in 2013. However, according to The Guardian, the fine is typically only £300, and one of the comments said that you get the car back after you've paid the fine and a storage fee. So, I think that keeping the car permanently might be more of a deterrent, although that depends on the value of the car.

I'd be happy for the police to do more enforcement and/or for the courts to hand out harsher penalties; maybe speed cameras could be upgraded so that they can read the licence plate (ANPR), cross-reference it against the database, and flag it up to any police cars in the area, or something along those lines.

I also agree with you that we shouldn't change the system solely based on this single incident. However, that was just the catalyst for this post. I think that there are other drivers out there who no longer meet the vision requirements, and that may contribute to "SMIDSY" (Sorry Mate I Didn't See You There). The problem is that it's difficult to know how many people are in that category unless you do extra testing. As a first step, I'd be happy for the police to do some random spot checks on this, to see how prevalent it is.

I don't agree that we should avoid raising the standard because people are just going to drive anyway. By that logic, we shouldn't hand out any driving bans or put points on people's licences for dangerous activity (e.g. drink driving or holding a phone). After all, those people are still physically capable of getting into a car and driving around.

I mentioned GCSEs (and computer exams) because I certainly get rusty if I don't use a skill for a certain period of time. Similarly, certain skills get out of date. I'm not suggesting these tests as an arbitrary way of filtering out poor people, I'm suggesting them because I think that people need to pass them in order to be safe and competent drivers.
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From:elvum
Date:January 10th, 2014 01:36 pm (UTC)
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The correct solution is "self-driving cars", IMO. Might take a bit longer, mind.
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From:johnckirk
Date:January 10th, 2014 03:32 pm (UTC)
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I think that will certainly help. I assume that even when those cars are available/legal, they will still have to co-exist with human controlled vehicles (e.g. bikes), so traditional cars won't disappear for a while (if ever). However, people may be more willing to accept extra driving tests if there's an alternative, i.e. "if you don't want to do these tests then switch to a self-driving car".
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