Optometrists And The Driving Blind Campaign

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ROAD SAFETY  ARTICLE

Last week I began a focus on the dangers of driving impaired or better still driving blind as expressed by the National Optometric Association (NOA). I cited section 57.3 of the National Road Traffic Regulations 2012. In a nutshell, the Section requires all applicants to undergo vision acuity and general medical fitness examination as prerequisite for applying for the National driver’s license. Although I promised last week to take you through developments in other climes such as the United Kingdom, I am inclined this week to first share with you the worry of the Association as expressed by Dr Ozy Okonokhua which borders on two major areas; the need for a national standard and a rejig of the pre-licensing process in the country which was the focus of the page a couple of weeks ago.

I have chosen for the sake of laymen like me who are not too literate in the business of eye examination or even any aspect of medicine to run through the views of the Association sent to me by Dr Ozy through an email as requested. Please kindly enjoy the reading and be free to share your opinion which I will gladly publish on this page without hesitation. According to Dr Ozy, the current minimum visual Acuity standard adopted for Nigeria is 6/12. This is a standard that was borrowed from Countries with road infrastructures that meet global best practices. This criterion implies that a driver, who can read 6/12 on a well-lighted, stationary chart, can generally be assumed to still be a safe driver in a moving environment and under adverse conditions, such as after dark, in rain or hazy conditions. This standard of 6/12 he argues did not consider the peculiarities that pervade our roads in Nigeria and the other factors that our road users are faced with.

He therefore maintains that the Nigerian Standard Visual Acuity for Driving should be higher than what obtains in other climes if we are to consider the following; the state of our roads which are most of the times riddled with pot holes, the absence of road furniture in most of our roads, like proper illuminations and markings, the Lack of adequate understanding of the use of our roads by the average road user. Others include the disrespect for road signs by road users and the poor health seeking behavior of Nigerians. The aggregation of these factors means that the Nigerian minimum Visual Acuity for driving must be higher than what obtains in other countries and be tailored to suit our environment.

It is the considered opinion of most stakeholders (NOA) inclusive that the Minimum Visual Acuity for Driving in Nigeria must be perfect. If we cannot obtain perfect 6/6 Visual Acuity, then the threshold should be 6/9. This implies that the driver will be able to see at 9 meters, what the normal eye is expected to see at 6 meters. A driver with this visual acuity will have a good response time to obstacles and other impediment to driving. This does not take into consideration the Visual Fields of the driver as that is another component altogether

To further drive home his point, he recalled the report of a study conducted in the UK called “DRIVE” which concluded that despite the progress made in the United Kingdom, 1 in 6 road accidents are caused by poor vision on the part of the driver. The result of this study led to a campaign which  eventually made it mandatory for intending drivers to have an eye check  followed up by checks every three years although as you will see in this write-up there are contentions in the United Kingdom on the need to review the current procedure .He equally  cited another study  conducted by the NCBI National Centre for biotechnology Information (NCBI) to reinvestigate the visual performance of drivers who had a crash record during a year to determine the percentage of visual impairments and recommend further revision of vision-related driving license requirements. 403 drivers with crash records were screened comprehensively. The results demonstrated that 33 drivers (8.2percent) had known ocular diseases, including cataract in 9 (2.2percent) and non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy in 5 (1.2percent). Five participants showed visual trauma, and 65 participants (16.1percent) wore eye glasses. Furthermore, 18 patients mentioned history of systematic diseases (hypertension in 10, diabetes in 6, and heart disease in 2 patients).Of the drivers, 96.3percent, 17percent, 15.8percent, and 5.9percent had normal (≥7/10) visual acuity, visual field, three-dimensional vision, and color vision lower than the minimal standard, respectively.

 The studies done in the UK according to Dr Ozy directly infers that visual impairment is a significant cause of road traffic accidents. The findings of the UK study correlates with a driver’s vision test survey conducted by the Nigerian Optometric Association in collaboration with the Federal Road Safety Corps which showed that Visual impairment is a significant predictor of road traffic accidents (RTA). Drivers with visual impairment were nearly two times more likely to be involved in road traffic crashes as compared to those without visual impairments. These explains why the experts are driving partnering with the Corps not just in setting standards, but also in improving awareness of drivers vision and need for regular eye checks, ensure a comprehensive eye and vision test is done as a pre-requisite for issuance and re-issuance of drivers’ license, develop minimum standards of vision required for driving in Nigeria and further research to enrich our literature. Although they acknowledge that the current road traffic regulation stipulates certain tests such as eye test, general health condition, hepatitis b, epilepsy, and blood sugar are pre-requisites for a driver’s license applicant, they however argue that eye test is one that needs a more cursory look to checkmate road traffic crash trend

 The Association is advocating the engagement of professionals to be accredited to comprehensively screen drivers and intending drivers before they can obtain/or renew their driver’s license.