National Trust volunteer and grandfather of seven, Alan Woods, was dismayed when he was told his vision no longer met the legal standard to drive following a diagnosis of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). But early detection meant it could be treated and within six months, he was able to successfully reapply for his licence.
Now, the Ashbourne local is encouraging others to have an essential eye test this summer in order to safeguard the nation’s roads – as recent research from Vision Express reveals eye health is worryingly low on drivers’ list of priorities, with almost one in three UK motorists admitting to being overdue a sight check.
Alan, an 81-year-old retired engineer, was diagnosed with wet AMD in his right eye when he lived in Bristol 20 years ago. The most common form of sight loss in the UK, AMD currently impacts more than 600,000 people in the UK and another 200 new cases are detected every day.“There was no treatment available back then so nothing could be done,” explains Alan. “I’d completely lost the central vision in my right eye, so when I closed my good eye I could only see a black spot in the middle.”
Despite having just peripheral vision in his right eye, Alan was able to keep his driving licence due to the fact his other eye was unaffected. But 12 years later, Alan was understandably concerned when he noticed similar symptoms in his left eye.
“I was driving in misty dusk and car headlights coming the other way were distorted,” he says. “Then, when I got home I looked around at the door frame and noticed it was crooked, which is one of the main signs of AMD. I was very aware of what it could be as I already had it in the other eye and I knew if I had issues in my left eye as well, it would be a big problem.”
Having moved to Ashbourne a couple of years prior, Alan went straight to his local Vision Express on St John Street where he was seen by optometrist and store director, Estelle Wildman. “I told him I could see signs of wet AMD and I was referring him directly to hospital,” she says. “Alan was due to go on holiday to France the next day but I advised him his vision fell below the standard for driving - he was shell-shocked.”
Although Estelle was legally bound to inform Alan he no longer met the legal standard for driving, it was up to him to surrender his licence to the DVLA – something he did immediately. He continues: “It was a nuisance to give it up as I felt perfectly safe and happy to drive; the only thing I’d noticed was that objects in the distance were out of focus. But as soon as I was told it was illegal for me to be on the roads, I didn’t hesitate to give it up. My wife would have made me hand it over anyway!”
Estelle explained however, there was now a possible treatment for wet AMD, which could hopefully get his vision back up to standard. He was put straight into the NHS system at The Royal Derby Hospital where he began receiving monthly injections.
For Alan, only his left eye was treatable as the AMD in his right eye had caused too much damage over the years. Estelle explains: “It’s possible to treat wet AMD when there’s active fluid build-up or bleeding at the back of the eye but if this is left untreated it can lead to scarring at the back of the eye - the damage is done by that point.”
After six months of treatment, Alan’s condition was deemed stable and he was discharged from the hospital. He visited Estelle again who was delighted to tell him the vision in his left eye was back up to a standard where it was legal for him to drive again and he successfully reapplied for his licence.
Although he has had his licence back for over five years now, there have been a couple of periods since when he has been advised not to drive due to worsening symptoms, which required further treatment. “It’s stable again now but there’s still fluid there so I now get injections every two months,” he adds.
Nobody now knows better than Alan, the importance of maintaining regular eye tests and he hopes others take heed of his advice to prioritise their eye health – particularly following Vision Express’ research which shows there is increased pressure on the nation’s roads this year, with over half of Brits opting to holiday in the UK instead of abroad.
“It’s so important for everyone to get their eyes tested,” he concludes. “And if they do that, and there is something wrong, then they can get into the system and get treatment for it, just like I did.
“If somebody driving with impaired vision gets involved in an accident and it came out that they were driving illegally, even if it’s not their fault – well, it’s breaking the law!”
Jonathan Lawson, Vision Express CEO comments: “We passionately believe it is critical to educate drivers about sight. Our research revealed that less than half (47%) of UK drivers know what the legal eyesight requirement for driving is – that’s a big concern. It is hard to comprehend that something as important as sight is so low on the road safety agenda. While it’s important to make sure your car is fit for the road, we want to encourage the UK public to ensure their sight is worthy.
“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 this summer.”
A free eye test voucher can be downloaded from the Vision Express website and is redeemable until 31st August 2017: www.visionexpress.com/staycation/free-eye-test
Vision Express offers an eye test to best practice guidelines of the College of Optometrists (COO), with each Vision Express optometrist being a qualified eye health professional. To book an eye test at the Ashbourne store call 01335 300199, or visit 42 St John St, Ashbourne DE6 1GP. Make an online enquiry at: www.visionexpress.com/book-eye-test/
 Survey conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Vision Express, July 2017, among 2,000 drivers who have holidayed or will be holidaying in the UK this summer
About Vision Express
Vision Express is one of the largest optical retailers in the UK and part of GrandVision,the global leader in optical retail operating in more than 40 countries, spanning over 6,500 stores and online.
With almost 400 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.
With around 4,500 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 Charity Project and include:
- Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT)
- International Glaucoma Association
- Macular Society
- Stroke Association
- Temple Street University Hospital