A local AM has backed calls to improve awareness among Welsh drivers about the importance of having an up-to-date eye test before getting behind the wheel.
Attending an event in the Senedd this week, Russell George, AM for Montgomeryshire, tested a driving simulator, replicating the experience of driving with glaucoma. The event – hosted by Vision Express – coincided with National Glaucoma Awareness Week 2018 (June 4-10).
It is estimated that crashes involving a driver with poor vision cause 2,900 casualties each year. Research by Vision Express and OnePoll research finds that 15% of drivers have not had an eye test since they passed their driving test – on average – 14 years previously. It’s estimated that as many as 38,000 people here in Wales are suffering with glaucoma, half of which is undiagnosed. That means there are an estimated 19,000 people with glaucoma who could be driving without realising the danger they pose to themselves and others.
Speaking after the event, Mr George said:
“Many people don’t realise that changes in sight can be gradual, and experts say that patients suffering from undiagnosed glaucoma can lose up to 40% of their vision before even noticing it.
“That’s why drivers of all ages have a responsibility to themselves, their passengers, other road users and pedestrians to ensure they take their eye health seriously.
Using the driving simulator I experienced for myself just how debilitating and dangerous it can be to drive with impaired vision.”
Glaucoma is one of the biggest causes of preventable sight loss in the UK – it already accounts for over one million outpatient NHS visits across the UK each year. The condition is symptomless in its early stages, and a regular eye test is the only way to detect it. Over 90% of people diagnosed early will retain some useful sight but late diagnosis can result in total blindness. Glaucoma occurs in 2% of people over the age of 40, increasing to almost 10% of people over the age of 75.
Mr George added:
“It’s absolutely right that, to-date, efforts to improve road safety have focussed on speeding, drug and drink driving, driver fatigue and mobile phone use.
However, there now needs to be a focus on promoting good eye health. After all, you wouldn’t get behind the wheel of your car if it didn’t have an up-to-date MOT, so why would you put your own lives and the lives of others at risk by driving with defective eyesight?”
Jonathan Lawson, Vision Express CEO, said:
“The optometry industry does its best to keep this issue in the public eye but without more support from policy-makers, it's difficult to see how we're going to really shift driver attitudes.
That's why Vision Express is calling on the Welsh Government to help us to raise awareness about the importance of regular eye tests for drivers and we would strongly support any efforts to spearhead high profile awareness raising campaigns such as those which have proven so successful in deterring the use of mobile phones and drink driving.”