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August 2020
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New driving legislation ' the facts and implications for public sector employers

It is a worrying fact that the legislation covering eyesight requirements for driving was set in the 1930s, when driving conditions and cars themselves were radically different from today. At present the only prerequisite for any driver, even those who drive in the course of their work, is to be able to read a number-plate at a distance of 20.5 meters. All this is, however, about to change.

New legislation, passed in the EU Parliament in 2006, is set to be introduced to member states in 2011. The current proposal is that holders of commercial licences will have to have their eyes tested every 5 years, and holders of private licences will be tested every 10 to 15 years. Each member state has until 2013 to translate the directive into national law. This could have a big impact on individuals who drive in the course of their work and for their employers both in the Public and Private sectors.

Research* carried out by Specsavers Corporate Eyecare suggests that an update in the law is badly needed. A disturbing majority of 53% of employers said they were worried that some employees may be driving during the course of their work, when their eyesight is not good enough to do so.

It is interesting to discover just how seriously public sector employers and fleet managers take the issue of the eyesight of their driving staff. Most employers (84%) classed it as ‘very important’ that employees who drive during the course of their work have their eyes tested regularly. However, the vast majority of employers (60%) did not have a policy to test the eyesight of these employees. Of those who did have a policy to test their employees’ eyesight, only 13% did so on a regular annual basis.

There also seems to be a discrepancy between what fleet managers think should be the case and what actually happens in the workplace. The research revealed that 60% of employers had their own eyesight tested within the last 12 months but only 13% had a policy to do the same for their staff.

Whilst not every company always welcomes new EU directives, the research shows that nearly all employers (90%), believe legislation should be in place to ensure employees who drive during the course of their work have their eyes tested regularly. For the public sector, this is vitally important; not just because of the sheer numbers of people driving whilst at work but also with respect to the Corporate Manslaughter Act. The 2007 Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act places responsibility for fatal work-related injuries firmly on the shoulders of the employer. The Ministry of Justice states: -Courts will look at management systems and practices across the organisation, providing a more effective means for prosecuting the worst corporate failures to manage health and safety properly.” Essentially, juries will be able to decide if the death was a result of failed company systems. Companies found guilty of Corporate Manslaughter are open to an unlimited fine – something which no Public Sector company can afford to risk.

This, paired with the moral issue of caring for the safety of employees, has led some forward-thinking companies to already provide regular eyesight checks for their staff. Undertaking a full eyeexamination, at least every two years, with a fully qualified optician, can improve the chances of staying safe on the roads. Loss of vision is not always immediately noticeable; a gradual deterioration may not be picked up on by the individual. Similarly, someone with already borderline eyesight can easily slip into the category of vision that is not good enough for driving.

There are two important eyesight tests for those who drive: sight and field-of-view. Sight involves checking the distances over which a person can see. Field-of-view is concerned with their peripheral vision, vital for overtaking, approaching a junction, etc. If either of these is not adequate then driving ability will be seriously impaired.

Equally, full eye examinations are important in relation to general health. Conditions such as glaucoma, diabetes and high blood pressure can be detected during a thorough eye examination, so the benefits of good eyecare are far reaching.

Fleet managers need to take greater responsibility for their drivers’ eyesight. Whilst they would not consider letting a car onto the road without a valid MOT or the right insurance, it makes sense that they also ensure the driver is fit to be behind the wheel. It’s a good idea for this to form part of the HR policy and for regular checks to be made standard.

Far from being an extra expense, introducing eyesight tests can actually save an organisation money. One Hull-based company recently introduced eyesight testing as one of a number of measures in their extended duty-of-care programme and, as a result, their insurance company reduced their proposed premium increase by 9%.

The most important aspect in the safety of a car is arguably the driver. Whilst the government is working to improve safety, and individuals must play their part, it makes financial and moral sense for the employer to take control.

*Research undertaken on behalf of Specsavers Corporate Eyecare by Emedia in April 2008
For a full copy of the findings readers are invited to contact Specsavers Corporate Eyecare on 0115 933 0800 or

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