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Driving and eye tests

There are special eye tests that some people with diabetes need to have. This is if they develop eye complications and they want to drive. 

These rules come from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) in England, Scotland and Wales, and the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) in Northern Ireland. We use DVLA throughout this information, to make things simpler.

If you have diabetes and drive, you must let the DVLA know if any of these things affect you:

  • Retinopathy. This is more common in people with diabetes and happens when raised blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels in your eyes. You need to tell the DVLA if you have retinopathy or if you’ve had treatment for it, like laser treatment. That’s because even after it’s been treated you can still have some missing spots in your vision.
  • If you’ve had maculopathy or have a scotoma (a blind spot in your field of vision).
  • There are any changes to your sight that make it harder for you to drive.

If you’ve already got a licence at the time you’re first diagnosed or treated, then you must contact the DVLA immediately. 

But if you’re applying or reapplying for your driving licence, you let them know in the application form. You can call our helpline to talk this through, we can help you understand the rules.

Specsavers test

You’ll be sent a form by the DVLA. Once you’ve filled it in and sent it back, they’ll contact Specsavers to fix an appointment at your local branch for within four weeks. You’ll need to bring their letter along with photo ID to your appointment. 

You might not have a Specsavers near you – that’s okay. The DVLA will send you to another optician that’s closer.

This test at Specsavers is also known as the Esterman test. You won’t need to pay for it.

You’ll probably have had this kind of eye test before. It’s done by a trained optician (eye specialist). They’ll ask you to press a button when you see small spots of light. In this way, they’re testing your peripheral vision – which is what you can see at the edges, away from the centre you’re looking at.

No matter how worried you are about the risk of losing your licence, don’t be tempted to try and beat the test by pressing the button before you see anything. It’ll show up in the results and can count against your score. This could then mean you’re sent for another test which will probably be at hospital.

Your eye test results

The person doing the test won’t be able to tell you there and then. This is because it’s a computerised test and the results will be read by medical experts on behalf of the DVLA, who will also look at the standards needed for your licence group. So, you’ll hear later, from the DVLA – not Specsavers.

What if you don’t think the test was done properly?

Sometimes people feel the test wasn’t done properly or fairly. That might be because: 

  • It was too noisy.
  • Things weren’t explained well and you weren’t ready.
  • You weren’t sure whether you could wear your glasses.
  • Something went wrong and you weren’t given a chance to correct it. For example, the frames of your glasses meant you couldn’t see everything.

If this happens to you then contact the DVLA straight away to complain. 

If you don’t pass the test

If you don’t pass, you’ll probably have your licence taken away (revoked). We know that this can be very difficult and it’s a real worry for many people. But it may help to know that you can reapply if you think your sight is good enough to drive.

You can go to any optician to do the test again – so long as you check with them that their equipment and type of test will be accepted by the DVLA. The standards for the test are higher if you’re applying for a Group 2 licence. So, check you’re having the right test for the type of licence you need. 

You’ll need to pay for the test and if you pass it, you’ll still need to go for an approved test with Specsavers. So this first test doesn’t replace a Specsavers test but it shows the DVLA that they need to test you again with another Specsavers test. 

The only reason why you wouldn’t need another Specsavers test is if a consultant ophthalmologist can provide acceptable results. An ophthalmologist is a doctor specialising in eyes who works in a hospital.

Goldmann perimetery test

This is the test you’ll have if your Specsavers test produced too many false positives (you pressed the button at the wrong times). If this is why you’ve been asked to have the Goldmann perimetery test, you won’t need to pay for it. It’s usually done in hospital.

This test isn’t easier to pass than the Specsavers one, but some people like it better as the person doing the test will be more expert and involved in the process.

For this reason, some people who’ve not been able to pass the Specsavers test decide to take the Goldmann perimetery test. If you decide to do that, you need to ask the DVLA for an approved provider and you’ll need to pay for it.

If you don’t pass this test

If it’s for a Group 1 licence to drive a car or motorbike, you could try what’s called the Exceptional Circumstances process. You can’t do this for a Group 2 licence to drive larger vehicles or a lorry – so you won’t be able to hold this kind of licence unless your sight gets better.

If your sight gets better

This happens quite often. It could be because you’ve had further treatment or because the treatment you’ve had has settled.

If it happens to you, then see your ophthalmologist (eye specialist) and get their opinion on whether your sight is now good enough for the type of licence you’re applying for. If they agree, then you need to arrange another eye test with a provider approved by the DVLA so that you can start the process again.

Exceptional circumstances process

You can only use this process for a Group 1 licence to drive cars or motorbikes. It’s not easy and you need to be prepared for a long wait as medical experts will need to assess you and you’ll have to take a practical driving test.

So you should only try this route if you’re sure you can drive safely – in spite of the problems you have that have meant you’ve not been able to pass the Specsavers or Goldmann perimetery tests.

If you’re still sure you want to try for Exceptional Circumstances, then the first thing to do is contact the DVLA and ask to be considered.

You’ll then need to ask your ophthalmologist (eye specialist) to report to the DVLA about your suitability to drive. They’ll need to say that your eyes have been stable for the last 12 months and that you don’t have an eye condition that’s getting worse (a progressive eye condition). 

They’ll then need to address each of the following eye conditions to confirm that you don’t have them:

  • Progressive eye conditions affecting visual fields such as glaucoma or retinitis pigmentosa
  • Sight in one eye (monocular vision)
  • Uncontrolled diplopia
  • Other conditions affecting vision (sensitivity to glare or contrast, twilight visual impairment)

And they’ll need to comment on your functional adaptation – so how you’re able to move so that your limited visual field isn’t a problem by, for example, turning your head. You might have to give them evidence for this, like a video of you cycling in traffic, doing a racket sport or other things that show you reacting quickly to movement at the edges of your sight (your peripheral vision).

The report from your opthalmologist will then be looked at by the Drivers Medical Group who may still have more questions.

If after this they agree that you should be able to sit a practical test, they’ll give you a provisional licence to cover the day of the test – or possibly a temporary licence.

If you then pass the practical test, you should be issued with a restricted licence for one, two or three years.

Looking after your eyes

It’s so important to look after your eyes when you have diabetes. It’s how you can reduce your risk of any problems developing with your sight that can’t be treated – that could affect your ability to drive. 

We have lots of advice for you on how to look after your eyes. And make sure you always have your annual diabetic eye check. It’s one of your 15 Healthcare Essentials.

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