Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 60A:



"DRIVING WITH UNCORRECTED DEFECTIVE EYESIGHT
After section 96(3) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) (driving with uncorrected defective eyesight) insert—
"(4) It is mandatory that drivers requiring corrective eyewear carry spare corrective eyewear while driving.""

The noble Earl said: The amendment is the lead amendment of a group on the Marshalled List, but I have alerted the Minister and one or two others that I have changed the group. The amendments should not have been put in the groups that they were, so at the moment I speak only to Amendment No. 60A.

5 Jun 2003 : Column GC284

We move on to another area of concern on which safety on the road is a key issue. It is a forgotten area of government policy. From the variation and consistency of the written replies that I have had to questions that I tabled, it does not seem a very joined-up area of government policy either.

We all take it for granted that we can get into a car once we have passed our test at the age of 17, or soon thereafter, and drive happily. Sadly, our body ages and our eyesight changes. To use a Scottish word, there is a peelywally eyesight test when one takes a driving test, but eyesight alters markedly as people grow older, particularly in their 40s and 50s. However, no further testing is done until one is 70.

That has been the cause of a number of deaths and accidents. One cannot say how many, because there are no great statistics about it. Certainly there is one important case, that of Gordon and Jan Holley, whose 18 year-old daughter Emma was killed in September 2001 by someone who simply forgot to get into his car wearing his glasses, set off driving down the road, could not see and did not see. That ended in a fatality. We will discuss aspects of the matter on further amendments.

Amendment No. 60A suggests that it be,


    "mandatory that drivers requiring corrective eyewear carry spare corrective eyewear while driving".

Had that been law, that person should have had a spare pair of contact lenses or glasses in the car. It is already the law in Switzerland, Spain and certain states of America. It would be beneficial to have something like it in our country, too. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: In one minor respect, the noble Earl is in error. He says that someone takes the peelywally test of reading a licence plate 20.5 metres away when they pass the test and do not do it again until they are 70. I took the peelywally test when I passed my driving test in 1950, and I have not taken it since. When I renewed my licence at the age of 70, I still did not have to do it; I simply had to say that I had short sight and astigmatism corrected by glasses. I still have not been given even that minor test. I conducted it for myself, of course, but that is not the same.

The amendment goes too far. It would impose an additional expense and burden on an individual to keep a spare pair of glasses in the car, and presumably to have a spare pair in other places at other times. I understand that there may be occasions when people forget their glasses, but they should not drive. That is the better solution.

The Earl of Caithness: One should not drink; one should not do a lot of things, but there is plenty of legislation to correct an individual who does not do what an individual should do in a society that we could accept. I was saddened by the Minister's reply, in that he said that the amendment went too far. It is law in other countries, as I said. The issue is serious. Like the previous issue that we discussed, it has caused and is causing accidents and deaths. It needs to be considered. Perhaps on the other amendments we can

5 Jun 2003 : Column GC285

have a better assessment of how the Government seek or hope to change the law to consider the whole area of eyesight. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 60B:


    After Clause 106, insert the following new clause—


"DRIVING WITH UNCORRECTED DEFECTIVE EYESIGHT (NO. 2)
After section 96(3) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) (driving with uncorrected defective eyesight) insert—
"(5) Vision screening equipment shall be used to test drivers' eyesight as part of the driving test.""

The noble Earl said: In speaking to Amendment No. 60B, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 60C and 60F. Amendment No. 60B comes back to the point raised by the Minister when he said that he did not have a proper screening test when he passed his driving test. We should take that a stage further. He was right to remind us that there is a visual test in which one has to read letters of about 18 millimetres high at a distance of about 20.5 metres, but surely there should be a proper screening test at the same time. One's eyesight is sensitive. It is clear from research that some people who drive cars at the moment are not visually fit to do so.

Amendment No. 60C is a simple amendment that requires an eyesight prescription to be produced with all applications for a driving licence. That would be a sensible way forward. If one is to get a driving licence, one fills in a form, and one can quite easily mislead the people to whom one will submit that form unless one gives a prescription with it.

Lord Clinton-Davis: Does the regime that the noble Earl wants to utilise in Amendments Nos. 60C and 60F apply anywhere else?

The Earl of Caithness: Is the noble Lord asking whether it applies in other countries?

Lord Clinton-Davis: Yes.

The Earl of Caithness: I do not know. However, from the evidence obtained in this country so far, it is something that should be considered. The noble Lord might prefer to do only what the rest of Europe does, but perhaps we should be leaders and take it along with us.

Amendment No. 60F would mean that one had one's eyesight tested every five years. That is certainly a legal requirement in many states of America, particularly when people reach the age of 50. From that age on, they have to have their eyes tested every five years and, if they do not meet the standards, they have to have a prescription and wear glasses. It would seem a logical and sensible way to try to increase the level of safety.

There has been a lot of support for that suggestion. The Chief Constable of North Wales Police, talking on behalf of ACPO, said that it had always maintained that the current eyesight test was not rigorous enough,

5 Jun 2003 : Column GC286

that research clearly indicated public support for some sort of compulsory or mandatory eyesight check for drivers on a regular basis, and that such a requirement would have its support. Mr Jonathan Simpson, campaigns manager for the RAC Foundation, said that it was vital that drivers had their eyes tested at least every two years, regardless of whether they wore spectacles, and had an examination immediately if they were in the slightest doubt about their sight.

By taking the small steps that I propose—they are not draconian—one could improve considerably the level of safety on our roads. I beg to move.

6.15 p.m.

Viscount Simon: I am in general agreement with the noble Earl's suggestion. I have no idea what my noble friend the Minister will say. There is a possible defect in Amendment No. 60C, which states:


    "A current eyesight prescription shall be produced".

It does not state "produced and filled". In other words, the eyesight prescription and glasses may not have been made up.

Lord Berkeley: I do not support the amendment; I merely seek clarification from the noble Earl. We have been discussing transport across modes. As the legislation involves people in charge of heavy machinery—many people would call them missiles, some with passengers aboard, which run the risk of hitting other people and causing death or injury—what should happen to train drivers, bus drivers, airline drivers and even ship drivers? Should these requirements apply to them? It would help the debate if we knew the answer.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The issue raised by the amendments is comparable to the issue raised by Amendment No. 60A. It is already an offence under Section 96 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 for a person to drive with uncorrected defective eyesight. If a person cannot meet the eyesight test, even with corrective lenses, the driving licence will be either revoked or not issued in the first place.

People such as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and myself, who have defective vision which needs to be corrected, regularly have their eyesight checked for all kinds of reasons—of which driving is perhaps not the most important—and they make any recommended changes. That is perhaps a matter of self-interest which applies to many other spheres and to almost all kinds of work. Driving is not an exceptional case. We might as well say that people should not go to work unless they have a spare pair of glasses or can prove that they have received and filled a prescription within the last two years. Driving is not different from other activities.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My noble friend has referred to the generality of the situation. Can he refer to any specific cases where people have been prosecuted

5 Jun 2003 : Column GC287

specifically because they have not complied with the rules so far as spectacles or their equivalent are concerned?


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page