Road Safety Experts Call for Nationwide Eye-Testing

Controversial

Jun 15th, 2020

Road Safety Experts Call for Nationwide Eye-Testing

Imagine that you're driving one evening and a police officer pulls you over. They chat you up for a bit, asking to see your identification and about where you're heading. Then, you see one of them pull out a device. Like most people, you'd probably assume that it's a breathalyser, used to find out if you're driving under the influence of alcohol. Instead, you discover that the cop is going to use this device to test your eyesight. A little unusual, isn't it?

New Device for Roadside Eye-testing

An optometrist based in Hobart has designed such a device, and it's called the Acuidrive. It is a mobile or portable eye-testing device similar to the one that you'd find in an optometrist's office, except that it is designed specifically for use by police performing roadside eyesight examinations.

According to the device's creator, Ben Armitage, he believes this device will discourage people from driving without their corrective lenses. That's why he's been getting help from his friends on the police force to test out the device. As a matter of fact, he's already got the second prototype on the way!

Mr Armitage isn't alone in his concern about drivers and compromised vision. This device is just one small part in a broader debate between optometrists and road safety experts on the importance of nationwide eye-testing for drivers.

What's the Issue with Driving and Vision?

To understand what's going on, let's take a quick look at the statistics from different surveys conducted in Australia. Results from these surveys suggest that eyesight-related problems are more common among Aussie drivers than we might think.

According to Specsavers, a third of drivers do not wear glasses while driving, even though they're legally required to do so. Optometry Australia's 2020 Vision Index also discovered that a fifth of Australians aged 35-54 are unable to read road signs clearly while driving. This only underscores the troubling state of Aussie drivers' eyesight while on the road. 

Road safety experts and optometrists seem to agree on one thing: the vision of drivers is a good predictor of how well they'll perform on the road. But that seems to be where their agreement ends. While some optometrists like Mr Armitage believe in the usefulness of roadside eye tests, some experts oppose and say that it's too late for those kinds of tests. Instead, they argue that it’s the licensing system that needs overhauling. According to them, emphasis on the importance of eyesight should already be built-in the system while the individual is still applying for a license.

The police, or at least Scott Weber, the CEO of the Police Federation of Australia, has said that there were barely any accidents caused by bad eyesight. Still, he says that the police does indeed penalise drivers who don't wear corrective lenses as required by their conditional licenses.

As an example of those penalties, drivers in Queensland with a visual aids requirement on their license could be fined $144 for not wearing their corrective lenses. These penalties can differ significantly by state, as the same offence in Victoria could cost the driver up to $1,611 instead.

And what are Mr Weber's assertions about equipping police officers with devices like the Acuidrive? According to him, the police are already juggling too many devices on the job, and testing a person's eyesight can be done using much simpler methods.

Is Nationwide Eye Testing the Answer?

Experts believe that Australia needs nationwide vision testing standards. These calls come as a reaction to the current state of things. Right now, there's a lack of consistency across states for how driver eyesight is monitored and reported to transport authorities.

Regions like Northern Territory and South Australia have pretty straightforward rules: optometrists must inform the transport authorities of people who are driving with compromised vision. Other parts of Australia, sadly, don't have regulations like that, which further complicates the issue and fuels debates about the need for standardised rules across the country.

How Does Bad Eyesight Affect Driving?

Whatever the experts and authorities decide, drivers need to take some ownership over their visual capability or impairment. You must understand how your eyesight affects your driving and take full responsibility for it.

The most obvious reason good eyesight is essential is so that you can see where you're going. You're travelling in what is essentially a metal box moving at a high speed, so good eyesight is vital for you to be able to navigate the roads you're on.

Driving with even the slightest visual impairment can pose some serious risks. Firstly, without good vision, you won't be able to see road signs from afar which undermines your ability to react to them appropriately. In a nightmare scenario, you might even miss something like a stop sign and be unable to stop soon enough, which would put you and others at grave risk.

Good eyesight is also crucial for spotting dangers that might suddenly appear in your path. Some drivers may brush this off nonchalantly, thinking that they'll still be able to see when cars cut in front of them. However, they won't be able to spot harder-to-see dangers like animals or short pedestrians suddenly crossing in front of them.

Be A Responsible Driver

No matter how strict or lenient the rules are at any given time, we need to police ourselves and ensure that we're responsible drivers. Having our eyesight tested while we're getting our driver's licenses is only the first step. If we do have conditional licenses, we should always wear our corrective lenses as required. We do this not to avoid fines, but because it's the responsible thing to do.

The simple fact is that our vision can and will degrade over time, especially when we start heading into our golden years. If, or when that happens, we must be honest with ourselves about our ability to drive safely and be prepared to give that up if necessary. While that might feel like giving up a lot of our freedom, it's much better than putting others at risk. 

At that age, we've probably earned the right to be driven around by other people, anyway!

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by Ray Hasbollah