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Campaign pledges to end fatal road collisions at hands of visually-impaired motorists, 10 years after Rochford bride-to-be was killed by partially blind driver

Press Release   •   Nov 18, 2016 12:16 GMT

Rebecca Harris MP is supporting Vision Express’ campaign

MPs back initiative ahead of Road Safety Week 2016, calling for Government to acknowledge ‘shocking neglect’ around importance of driver sight

New driver research from Vision Express reveals:

  • 92% believe they meet the legal eyesight requirement for driving, yet over 60% cannot identify what this is
  • 76% want a recent eye test to be mandatory when renewing a driving licence
  • 15% of drivers hadn’t had a sight check since reading a number plate during their driving test, which was on average, 14 years ago
  • 94% of drivers do not realise you can lose 40% of your vision without noticing

Natalie Wade, aged 28, was shopping for her wedding dress with her mum when she was hit by a partially sighted driver as she walked across a pedestrian crossing. She died five days later, on Valentine’s Day 2006. The 78-year-old driver who hit Natalie had been told by medical professionals that his sight was too poor to continue driving, yet he did so unlawfully.

For the past ten years Natalie’s aunt, Reverend Brenda Gutberlet, has campaigned for a change in the law, without success. Ahead of Road Safety Week (21-27 November 2016), Brenda is joining a group of MPs to support Vision Express with an industry-leading initiative. The national optician aims to safeguard the UK’s roads by raising awareness of the importance of regular eye tests for drivers - as results from its research[i] reveal almost one in five UK drivers haven’t had an eye test in over five years. Worse still, 15% of drivers haven’t had a sight check since reading a number plate during their driving test, which was, on average, 14 years ago.

Brenda and her family’s world was turned upside down on 9 February 2006.

“Although Natalie and her mum, my sister-in-law, were using the crossing correctly, with the ‘green man’ showing, both were hit by a driver who could not see them. My sister-in-law made a slow recovery from her injuries but Natalie was placed on life support and never regained consciousness”, Brenda explains.

“At the inquest the verdict was that our beloved Natalie was ‘unlawfully killed’ because the driver knowingly and deliberately continued driving even though he was blind in one eye and his other eye had over forty defects in it.”

Brenda has since been tirelessly campaigning to put in place legislation so it is not the sole responsibility of the driver to inform the DVLA if their eyesight falls below the standard to drive. When polled by Vision Express, over half of drivers (52%) agreed with Brenda that this voluntary approach should be abolished, with 76% stating they would support legislation to make proof of a recent eye test mandatory when renewing a driving licence.

Brenda adds: “Our whole family has to live with the consequences of a wholly avoidable collision. If the driver who killed Natalie had been declared medically unfit to drive and removed from the road, it would not have happened. Road crashes due to poor driver vision are estimated to cause 2,900 casualties in the UK per year[ii] – so potentially 29,000 people have been injured or killed since Natalie’s death, with no Government action to raise awareness of driver eye health.”

Vision Express is lobbying Government to display ‘Eye Tests Save Lives’ signs across major highways during Road Safety Week. Six in ten drivers surveyed agree this would be worthwhile. Transport Scotland and the Welsh Government have pledged to display the messages on their roads for the week, yet Highways England has so far declined the proposal.

Supporters of Vision Express’s campaign include Lord Bradshaw, Viscount Simon, who is president and trustee of GEM road safety charity and MPs Huw Merriman, Stuart Andrew, Flick Drummond, Andrew Bridgen, Barry Sheerman (Chair of the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety (PACTS)) and Brenda’s local MP, Rebecca Harris. They have presented questions in Parliament and called on the Secretaries of Health and Transport to address driver sight as a major road safety concern.

Rebecca Harris MP says: “Ten years on from Natalie’s tragic death and despite campaigning alongside Brenda, we are still no further forward in treating poor driver sight as an issue fundamental to the safety of our roads.

“The latest Highways England road safety report sets out a strategic plan to prevent people being harmed whilst on the road network, addressing issues which impair driving such as fatigue, distraction, alcohol and drugs - with no reference to sight impediment. This shows shocking neglect of the problem poor driver sight poses to road safety. Another example is the DVLA licence renewal form, which is wholly ineffective. It currently asks drivers to self-certify that they meet the legal eyesight requirement for driving. The Vision Express research shows that 92% of drivers believe they meet this requirement - yet over 60% could not identify what the correct standard is. The question the DVLA needs to be asking is ‘when was your last eye test?’. And if it’s more than two years, a check-up should be mandatory.”

The Institute for Advanced Motorists, the Road Haulage Association, PACTs, Freight Transport Association and Road Safety GB have all vowed to back the campaign.

Jonathan Lawson, Vision Express CEO comments: “We passionately believe it is critical to educate drivers about sight and we’re calling on Highways England to follow the example of its Welsh and Scottish counterparts and help us spread the message that ‘Eye Tests Save Lives’.

“It’s extremely worrying that reports estimate five million drivers on UK roads would fail a number plate test if they had to take it again[iii]. What’s more, almost six in ten agree that reading a number plate as part of a driving test is an outdated and ineffective way to check sight is good enough to drive for years to come. Our own report reveals that 94% of drivers don’t realise you can lose 40% of your vision without noticing. An eye test by a qualified optician every two years - or more frequently if advised - is the recommended way to ensure your sight is up to scratch. That’s why we’re offering a free eye test to all UK drivers during Road Safety Week 2016.”

A free eye test voucher can be downloaded from the Vision Express website from 18 to 27 November,and is valid for booking an eye test until 31 December 2016. www.visionexpress.com/road-safety-week-free-eye-test/

The Vision Express poll found that one in three UK drivers believe impaired vision is the biggest safety risk on UK roads, second only to use of a mobile phone at the wheel.

Brenda concluded: “We stood around Natalie’s grave and promised as a family we’d do everything in our power to make the roads safer. The question every driver should ask before they get behind the wheel is: am I fit to drive today? To do so when you’re unable to see sufficiently shows a disregard for the lives of others, and it can’t be right that we still allow this to happen. As drivers we need to have a regular eye test, which is free for those aged over 60, and people on some benefits. If you’re not a driver you can still help by encouraging your family and friends who do drive to have their eyes tested. Tell them Natalie's story.”

[i] Survey conducted by OnePoll, October 2016, among 2,000 UK residents who are drivers

[ii] Fit to Drive: a cost benefit analysis of more frequent eyesight testing for UK drivers, RSA Insurance Group plc, 2012

[iii] 10. “Millions of motorists are driving blind”, Daily Mail, 2011.Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-144678/Millions-motorists-driving-blind.html

About Vision Express

Vision Express is the third largest optical retailer in the UK and part of GrandVision,the global leader in optical retail operating across 43 countries, spanning over 6,000 stores and online.

With more than 390 stores nationwide, Vision Express first opened its doors in Newcastle in 1988. Built on a passion for the profession, it has gone from strength to strength, driven by a commitment to unparalleled customer service and providing the best individual optical care, the right product and great value. Customers can select from a vast range of genuine designer brands and the latest technology lenses, through to complete glasses from £39.

Vision Express is considered one of the leading and most trusted opticians in the UK and Ireland, with its European offering supported through sister eye care brands Grand Optical, Solaris and Generale D'Optique.

With around 4,000 employees, Vision Express makes a significant difference to the communities it operates within, and the organisations it chooses to support. As part of its commitment to Vision. Taken Seriously, and as a responsible and caring retailer, Vision Express is proud to partner with a range of healthcare charities, which have touched the lives of customers and teams. These companies provide vital support to people affected by vision-related conditions. They are part of the Vision Express Charitable Partnerships and include:

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