The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) has found that around 13 million motorists on Britain’s roads are not wearing the glasses or contact lenses needed to correct their vision while behind the wheel.
Are any of those drivers on your fleet?When it comes to mitigating risk, fleet managers know that as well as vehicles being up to scratch, business drivers must also be fit for purpose. More and more operators are routinely checking licences and providing training for high risk employees.
You might think that when it comes to eyesight nobody should be more aware of the need for correction than drivers themselves.
But, as the RNIB found, that’s often not the case.
Mark Raines, director of retail development at Specsavers,
says that most people over the age of 40 will experience sight problems and urges all drivers to have regular eye care checks. “Loss of vision can creep up on people,” he says.
“A person may have had good eyesight in the past and not have noticed a gradual deterioration.”
Given the possible consequences of bad driver eyesight – ranging from vehicle downtime to loss of life – a strong argument exists for fleet managers to keep an eye on their drivers’ vision, just as they would monitor any other risk factor.
Duty of care
Employers are legally required to ensure that, if necessary, staff wear glasses while working at a computer console.
Currently there is no such requirement to check driver eyesight.
However, as of 2011 EU legislation will require all commercial vehicle drivers to have their eyes checked every five years, and private motorists checked every 10-15 years.
To be legally fit to drive motorists must be able to read an
old style number plate (pre-2001) from a distance of 20.5 metres, or a new number plate from 20 metres away.
It is an offence not to wear corrective lenses if they are needed and if caught without them motorists could land themselves three penalty points and up to a £1,000 fine. Employers
“There is a clear legal responsibility for the driver to ensure that they have good vision,” says Andy Price, fleet practice leader at Zurich.
“That said, it is likely that a significant pro-portion of employees will not meet these requirements – while it is the employees who are committing an offence, it is obviously not in the best interests of a company to allow this, as it will significantly increase the risk of having a collision.”
It is therefore in a company’s best interests to protect both its automotive assets and its employees by checking staff eyesight, Mr Price says. And it is a view shared at Specsavers.
“Time invested in recruitment and training is wasted if a driver’s eyesight is not good enough,” says Mr Raines. Along with monetary considerations, firms also have a duty of care – outlined in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 – towards their drivers.
The Act implies that man-agers should address the visual competence of their drivers in some way.
“Companies have a duty of care to ensure the safety of their employees while they are making work-related road journeys and fitness to drive is a key area that needs to be managed,” says Mr Price.
“It is obviously good practice for a company to manage employee eye testing.”
A simple policy clause – asking drivers to self-declare visual fitness – is enough, in legal terms, to cover a company’s duty of care to address driver eyesight.
However, best practice suggests a more robust management of staff eye care – specifically hands-on, routine testing.
Fleet managers should assess driver risk – including potentially defective eyesight – from the moment they take on new staff.
“It is very important to establish early on if a new starter who will be driving has a requirement for glasses or contact lenses,” says a spokesman for optical voucher provider Accor Services.
As sight is changeable it should be checked on a regular basis. The General Optical Council recommends that tests are carried out every two years.
“If drivers cannot provide up-to-date evidence that they have had a sight test in the past two years then it should be questioned whether they should be allowed to drive on company business,” Accor’s spokesman says.
Mark Raines takes a stricter approach: “Fleet managers should refuse vehicles to staff who cannot prove that they are visually fit to drive.”
There are a number of options available for fleet managers looking to take a more hands-on approach to driver eye care, ranging from basic in-house testing and referral to employers paying for all staff testing and lenses.
Companies looking to keep costs down can also issue eye care vouchers to prompt staff to get tested.
“The main concern for employers in all of this is likely to
be cost,” says solicitor Philip Somarakis.
“However, the cost of paying for regular eye tests and if necessary towards prescriptive lenses needs to be balanced against the potential benefits of lower insurance premiums, fewer accidents and corporate reputation.”