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Driving home for Christmas

The importance of a sight test for safe driving - especially during winter

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While festive celebrations will undoubtedly be a little muted this year, it seems that some things never change. Fairytale of New York. The seemingly irrepressible Mariah Carey. Do They Know It’s Christmas? (1984 version, obviously). Endless re-runs of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Love Actually and The Polar Express. Couples squabbling through face masks in the aisles of Waitrose over goose fat and the price of luxury crackers. Yes, the hallmarks of the yuletide season continue to make their presence felt.

With lockdown easing and yuletide celebrations in social distanced bubbles back on track, the gravelly tones of Chris Rea ring out once more, so the perennial debate about who gets lumbered with the task of ‘Driving home for Christmas’ has begun in earnest in the Beasley household. 

Let’s face it, driving can be quite tricky at this time of year with a mix of icy conditions, glare from low-lying sun, and dark winter nights. But how many of us consider a visit to the local optometrist to check if our vision is up to the challenges of Mother Nature?

It is somewhat worrying in the UK, that as long as drivers are able to pass the number plate test as a youth, barely out of nappies, there is no requirement to have a sight test to check that vision is still up to scratch at some point over the next half century or so. With poor vision being the cause of an estimated 2900 road casualties each year, it’s surprising that there isn’t a stronger emphasis on the importance of regular eye examinations for drivers of all ages.

As an optometrist, I have been involved in many a consulting room debate with a man-of-a-certain-age who’s in denial about the need to wear glasses when driving: ‘But, I’ve been driving for thirty years and barely had a scrape’ is the typical retort, while overlooking the fact they’ve failed to identify the very top letter on my vision chart. Of course, a sight test is not just about checking vision as optometrists can also detect eye disease as well as spot signs of underlying general health conditions.

So, if you happen to have a stubborn individual in your family (we all have one right?) and are struggling to think of an innovative Christmas gift this year, then how about sending them on a visit to their local opticians in the New Year for a sight test? Even, or perhaps especially, if your loved one ‘can see a mosquito two miles away’.

Ian BeasleyOptometrist, Dr Ian Beasley, is Clinical Editor for Optometry Today, Head of Education for the Association of Optometrists and postgraduate researcher at Aston University