Driver Knowledge Tests

Can you drive with poor vision or eyesight?

Your eyesight must meet a certain standard for driving. It must be possible for you to read road signs, see pedestrians crossing the road and have enough peripheral vision to detect dangers around you. You can wear glasses or contact lenses to meet this standard. When you apply for or renew your licence you may be required to pass an eyesight test.

Eye testing regime for car, motorbike and heavy vehicle licence holders

Private vehicle drivers

An eyesight test is required when:

  • Applying for a licence for the first time (learner licence or when converting from overseas)
  • Renewing an existing licence
  • Upgrading an existing NSW licence except if you are under 45 years old and have passed an eyesight test within the last 10 years for car and rider licence holders or over 45 years old and have passed an eyesight test within the last 5 years.

Commercial vehicle drivers

Commercial drivers must take a vision test on initial application and every licence renewal and replacement after that.

Multiple combination vehicle (class MC, road train): vision test with medical assessment on initial application, then at age 21 and every 10 years to age 40, every 5 years to age 60, every 2 years to age 70, then every year after that.

Public passenger vehicle (buses): vision test on initial application, then every three years until age 60, then annually.

Dangerous goods vehicle: vision test on initial application then every three years.

Driving instructors: vision test on initial application, then follows the rules for whichever driving licence class is held.

What standards are set for eyesight tests when driving?

Visual acuity

For car, motorbike and light truck drivers: visual acuity in an uncorrected eye must be better than 6/12. If this standard is met with corrective lenses (glasses or contact lenses) then a conditional licence will be issued. The minimum visual acuity required to get a licence is 6/24 for car, motorbike and light truck drivers. The binocular visual field (i.e. the visual field with both eyes) must be at least 110 degrees horizontally within 10 degrees above and below the horizontal midline, or within a central radius of 20 degrees of foveal fixation.

For bus and truck drivers: A person cannot hold an unconditional licence if their uncorrected visual acuity is worse than 6/9 in the better eye or worse than 6/18 in either eye. The binocular vision must be at least 140 degrees within 10 degrees above and below the horizontal midline.

Licence conditions

If you need to wear glasses for driving then your licence will have the condition “Prescribed corrective lenses must be worn”.

There is no restriction on driving if you are colourblind. However, your optometrist should make you aware that you may have more difficulties determining what traffic signals mean and responding appropriately.

Monocular drivers

Drivers with only one functioning eye are eligible to hold a private driver’s licence if the field of vision exceeds 110 degrees and meets the visual acuity requirement, but not usually eligible to hold a commercial vehicle licence.

Causes and solutions for bad eyesight

Eyesight can frequently be affected by your general health. If you drink heavily, are a smoker or you have diabetes, these can causes issues with your eyesight over time. Bad eyesight is not an inherited trait unless it’s inherited macular degeneration or retinitis pigmentosa. For some types of diseases and conditions there’s not a huge amount that you can do. However, for other types of degradation of eyesight there are actions and remedies; there are a number of ways in which you can improve your eyesight.

Eye strain

Long periods using your close vision (reading, looking at a computer or smartphone, etc) force your eyes to hold the focus at a distance that is not relaxed. This can tire the eyes and make it more difficult for them to adjust to a longer focus. There are eye exercises to strengthen ‘accommodation’ (the ability for your eyes to change their focal distance) and to help relax your eyes.

Cataracts

A cataract is a cloudiness in the lens of the eye which blocks light from entering, preventing them from focusing on the retina at the back of the eye. These can happen through normal aging, but trauma to, inflammation of and some diseases can cause cataracts. They can be fairly simply treated with an operation. Driving can usually be resumed within a few days after the operation.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma initially results in peripheral vision defects and problems with night vision. Early diagnosis and treatment with drugs can minimise vision loss. In some cases, surgery may be recommended

Hypermetropia (long-sightedness)

This condition means that the vision in the distance is good, but the person cannot focus on objects that are close. If glasses are not effective it can often be cured with laser surgery.

Myopia (short-sightedness)

Short-sightedness is where a person cannot see clearly into the distance. If glasses are not effective it can often be cured with laser surgery.

Diabetes

Diabetes can irreparably damage the retina if you contract DED (Diabetic Eye Disease). Not all diabetics do, and it’s mostly those that manage their condition poorly.

Darren is an expert on driving and transport, and is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists

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