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Visual Standards For Driving In UK

By: Mr David H Jones

Published Date: 18/01/21

David Jones is a consultant eye surgeon practising in Cornwall. He was appointed in 2007 and has been practising full-time both in the NHS and at the Ramsay Duchy Hospital in Truro ever since. His particular areas of expertise include cataract surgery, squints, neuro-ophthalmology and paediatric ophthalmology.

Is my eyesight good enough to drive? 3 easy criteria.

1. You must be able to read a front car numberplate at 20.5 m with both eyes open, wearing your driving glasses (if you wear them).

2. You must not have any double vision.

3. You must have a field of peripheral vision that extends at least 20° in all directions.

There are quite a lot of myths surrounding visual standards to hold a drivers license in the UK. It is in fact quite simple, but requires you to have good vision, no double vision, and good peripheral vision.

1. Visual acuity.

If you can read a front car numberplate at 20.5 m with both eyes open and your driving glasses on, you can continue to drive a car. If you cannot make out the numbers and letters on the numberplate, you must not drive. It does of course seem perfectly reasonable to say “I only drive short distances” or “I only drive during the daytime” or “I don’t drive very often.” I’m afraid the current UK law is not flexible enough to make allowances for these restrictions even though you might never cause an accident through poor vision. But if you commit a mild infringement of traffic law a police officer can legally stop you and test your eyesight at the roadside. If they find your eyesight to be defective they can impound your car and fine you. You should therefore make sure that your glasses are up-to-date by visiting your local optometrist once a year. If your spectacles do not improve the vision sufficiently you should be referred to a consultant ophthalmologist for assessment of any treatable eye disease.

2. Double vision.

If you suddenly develop double vision you may not drive until that double vision is alleviated. This can be done in a number of different ways, including using prisms incorporated into your glasses, by eye surgery, by patching one eye, or by letting the double vision resolve naturally. You should consult your ophthalmologist about the best course of action to return to driving if you develop double vision. If patching one eye is your only option you can continue to drive but you must inform the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) of this.

3. Field of vision.

If you have lost part of your peripheral field of vision and wish to continue to drive you will need to undergo a very specific test called an Esterman field. Many opticians can carry out this test for you. Alternatively, you should consult your local ophthalmologist to arrange one for you. The interpretation of this test is quite sophisticated, and requires a consultant ophthalmologist or the DVLA to determine whether you remain eligible to drive or not. The Esterman test assesses your field of vision with both eyes open. This means that even if you have lost a substantial part of the field of vision of one eye you may continue to drive if you have a full field of vision in the other. If you have had your license withdrawn because of a field of vision defect it is sometimes possible to have your license restored if you can prove that you have adapted to your visual field defect. For this you will need the assistance and advice of your consultant ophthalmologist.

It is important to remember that neither your optician nor your ophthalmologist has the authority to stop you from driving. However, it is our professional responsibility to advise you of your eligibility to drive. The responsibility to stop driving lies with you, based on the advice of your eye professionals. The final decision lies with the DVLA, not your eye professional. For further clarification consult the UK government website at:

Mr David H Jones, Consultant Ophthalmologist, on Visual Standards For Driving In The UK - 18 January 2021


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