You may think you have everything sorted when it comes to the drivers who you insure through your business.  You’ve stored the policy document somewhere safe. You’ve got a system for checking driving licences when insurance renewals are due, and you’ve got policies in place for dealing with claims in either direction. But is there something you are overlooking?

Few things are as important as eyesight when it comes to safe driving, and if the driver in question is employed by you, there are several very good reasons why you should be paying attention to their eyesight.

Eyesight, the road, and the law

The ability to see what is around you while driving, both near and far, is of course, a common-sense requirement of driving – especially if you’re driving a ton or more of metal at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour. But there are also requirements for drivers’ eyesights which are enshrined in law and set by the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency. These are, as stated on the official UK Government web page for ‘Driving eyesight rules’:

  • You must be able to read (with glasses or contact lenses, if necessary) a car number plate made after 1 September 2001 from 20 metres.
  • You must also meet the minimum eyesight standard for driving by having a visual acuity of at least decimal 0.5 (6/12) measured on the Snellen scale (with glasses or contact lenses, if necessary) using both eyes together or, if you have sight in one eye only, in that eye.
  • You must also have an adequate field of vision – your optician can tell you about this and do a test.

These standards are increased to 0.8 on the Snellen scale in the best eye for drivers of lorries and buses. Drivers of such vehicles are also required to have a field vision within specific ranges as stated here.

In accordance with EU legislation, UK employees who drive on official company business are expected to have eyesight tests at regular intervals to retain their license. For most drivers, this will be every 10 to 15 years, but for holders of commercial category C and D licenses, this is increased to every 5 years.

It is the requirement of the individual driver to ensure that their eyesight is such that they are fit to drive on the road, but if they are driving for your company and on your insurance then you are also responsible.

What is expected of employers regarding eyesight tests?

Specific legal responsibilities are placed on employers by the UK Health and Safety Executive. At the heart of this is the responsibility to ensure that all employees who drive on company business are fit to drive, regardless of whether they are driving their own car or a company vehicle. This applies to driving for all work-related purposes, other than commuting to a regular place of work.

It is important to understand this responsibility and to take all necessary steps to ensure that it is adhered to, as failure to do so can result in vehicle insurance policies being voided in the event of a claim. If a fatality occurs in an accident because of an employee being behind the wheel with inadequate eyesight, your company can also be charged with corporate manslaughter in court. Again, any liability insurance you may have could also be voided in this circumstance.

Some insurance policies may also carry additional requirements for driver eyesight over and above what is required by law, so it makes sense to read the small print.

Do I have to pay for my employees to have eye tests?

For employees who use display screens (i.e. computer monitors) as the main part of their job, it is possible to request that their employer pays for their eye test. However, there is currently no obligation under law for employers to pay for the eye tests of those who drive for them or to arrange said eye test. However, considering the requirements placed on employers above, it may well be considered prudent to offer employees who drive eye tests, or at the very least a subsidy towards the cost.

Presently there are many who would like to see mandatory requirements brought in to make UK employers responsible for their drivers’ eye tests. In the meantime though, those who are wise and wish to avoid trouble further down the line would be wise to consider taking the initiative to introduce these.

Work-related driving accidents

Roughly one-quarter of road traffic accidents annually involve vehicles which are being driven for work-related reasons. Though it is not possible to assess how many of these occurred as a result of poor vision, having diminished eyesight may have undoubtedly been a factor in some. In such circumstances, the insurer may refuse to pay out, and if it’s a company car this is clearly going to result in significant costs in terms of not recovering the cost of damages to the vehicle and having to pay out for third-party damage or loss.

What businesses would benefit from having an eye test scheme?

Virtually all businesses whose employees drive on a regular basis would benefit from the implementation of a regular eye test scheme or system. Taxi firms, hauliers, bus companies, courier companies, and take away restaurants offering deliveries are all amongst those who should consider it.

What steps should be taken?

The first step is to take stock of what employees drive for the business, and then to consider the establishment of a workplace scheme which checks the eyesight of drivers and safeguards the company with regards its responsibilities. This may comprise some or all of the following:

  • Keeping an electronic or hard copy log of all company drivers, when they had their last eye test and when the next one is due
  • Implementing a procedure for immediately suspending those who fail required eye tests from driving duties
  • Raising awareness amongst employees of their responsibilities as road users
  • Offering vouchers for eye tests or other providing other arrangements