A period of confusion and uncertainty about how the recent European regulations on driving and vision will be incorporated into UK law has been highlighted by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists.
It informed members of new Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) visual acuity standards (News 11.05.12) through an online statement last week.
However, it said certain aspects of a European Commission Directive on driving licences from 2009 had still not been met and the voice of the Medical Advisory Panel on driving and visual disorders not heard.
The RCO statement said: 'In response to the recent European Directive, the panel's advice was to retain the statutory number plate test at 20m, but to accept a visual acuity of 6/12 (decimal 0.5) as an alternative should the number plate test be failed.
'However, it is possible that a very small number of drivers with vision worse than 6/12 could still see a number plate at 20m which is recognised not to have a reliable exact Snellen equivalent so this would not comply with European law.
'Panel's advice was therefore not taken, and the standard is now that both the number plate test and a formal visual acuity of 6/12 need to be achieved. It is not clear yet what the practical effect of this will be.'
The DVLA has pointed to 'practical difficulties' for roadside enforcement by the police if some drivers were allowed not to meet the number plate test.
The RCO added that the European Directive also allowed for 'exceptional cases' where visual acuity standards could not be met but there was no other impairment of visual function, including glare, contrast sensitivity and twilight vision. But there was no indication that a panel suggestion for 6/18 vision in such cases would be acceptable, and the DVLA has retained exceptionality only for visual fields standards.
Discussions on driving standards are expected to continue with further changes possible.