What Is the Legal Eyesight Standard for Driving In The UK?  

There is a legal eyesight standard required of all drivers in the UK and failing to meet this standard or wearing corrective lenses to meet this standard could land you a hefty fine. It also puts you, other road users and pedestrians in danger. An estimated £33m of damage is caused by drivers with poor vision each year.   

This article will discuss the legal eyesight standard for driving and how this is tested. We will also discuss some of the most common eye conditions that can cause your eyesight to drop below the legal standard and what you can do to ensure your vision meets the legal standard.   

What Is the Legal Eyesight Standard For Driving?  

The legal requirement for vision when driving is judged on a person’s ability to read a car number plate from 20m, approximately five car lengths. Learner drivers are tested on this during their practical driving test, and if they fail to correctly read the number plate three times in a row, they immediately fail their test. You should also have an appropriate field of vision and peripheral vision to be able to drive legally.   

If caught driving without meeting the eyesight requirements, you may be prosecuted, fined or even imprisoned. Your licence will also be revoked, and you will have to reapply for it after a required period of time and prove that you meet the legal requirement. Driving under the legal eyesight requirement puts you and others in danger, as it can make it harder to judge distance and see hazards ahead.   

Driving Eyesight Test  

As a driver, it is vital to get your eyes tested regularly. This should be repeated every two years or if you notice any changes to your eyesight between tests. You can get eyesight tests from any opticians or most pharmacies, which will usually charge a fee.   

During your eye test, an optician will look at your eyes and determine if you have any eye issues such as glaucoma or cataracts. They will also show you a series of images, letters and words to determine if you have hyperopia (long-sightedness) or myopia (short-sightedness). Your optician will prescribe you glasses or contact lenses if necessary and refer you to experts if they identify any medical eye issues.   

Do I Need Glasses for Driving?  

If your vision is poor and you struggle to complete the driving eye test, you must wear glasses or contact lenses as prescribed by your optician. You should also be aware that the DVLA states that it is a legal requirement to wear your prescribed glasses when driving if you have been advised that you need to wear them for driving. This applies no matter how far you’re going and forgetting or losing your glasses or contact lenses is not an adequate reason for failing to wear them.   

Health Conditions and Driving  

There are some health conditions, including eye issues, that can make it illegal for you to drive. Glaucoma and cataracts are the most common eye issues that could impact your ability to drive. You can find more information on medical conditions that could prevent you from driving safely and what to do if you have these conditions on the government website.  

If you have a medical condition affecting your driving, you must inform the DVLA. You may not necessarily have to give up your licence, so it is best to talk to your doctor about whether you should notify the DVLA. If you fail to inform the DVLA of a health condition that could affect your driving, you could be fined up to £1,000 and lose your licence.   

Cataracts and Driving  

Cataract symptoms usually occur as we get older and can result in cloudy vision. Cataracts can make driving at night particularly difficult as they can cause excessive glare from passing vehicles’ headlights. During the daytime, you may not be affected by the glare, but bright sunlight might make it harder to see hazards and pedestrians.   

If your cataracts mean that you cannot read a vehicle registration plate from 20m, you must inform the DVLA and surrender your licence until your cataracts have been resolved. If you can still read a plate from 20m, you should usually be fine to continue driving, but it is worth starting to look at cataract surgery to prevent the issue from worsening.   

Glaucoma and Driving  

Glaucoma is a fluid build-up in the eye that can result in permanent vision loss. It is one of the leading causes of blindness and can also cause poor night vision, sensitivity to bright lights and loss of peripheral vision. If you are diagnosed with glaucoma, you should always check with your doctor before driving. Noticing a difference in your driving behaviour may also be one of the first signs of glaucoma.   

Since glaucoma can cause poor night vision, driving at night is risky as you cannot see the road properly and identify hazards in time. When driving during the day, the sensitivity to bright lights that glaucoma causes may also be a danger to pedestrians and other road users.   

It is best to start treatment for glaucoma immediately, which may be eye drops, laser treatment or surgery. The sooner treatment is started, the better your vision will be preserved. You should inform the DVLA of your glaucoma even if your doctor says you can continue to drive.   

You won’t usually notice any major changes until it is very far progressed, which is one of the reasons it is important to have regular eye health checks so it can be diagnosed as early as possible.

For more information about glaucoma, please read our world glaucoma week article. 

How Can You Meet the Legal Eyesight Standard for Driving?  

It is crucial for your safety and that of pedestrians and other road users that your eyesight is legally eligible before getting behind the wheel of a car. You must meet the legal eyesight requirement for driving, and if you do not, you must take steps to improve your vision. This is usually through glasses or contact lenses but could also be through cataract surgery or glaucoma treatment.   

You must inform the DVLA if you have a health condition preventing you from driving and stay off the roads until you are safe to drive again. If in doubt, you should give yourself the 20m number place test and seek advice from your doctor or optician if your vision is not up to standard.  

Book a Consultation  

If you’re experiencing eye issues and are unable to drive as a result, our team at The McIndoe Centre are here to help. Our expert medical professionals offer a range of cataract and glaucoma treatments to help you get back to full health. Book a consultation at The McIndoe Centre today to find out more.