Visual standards for driving in Europe

January 2017

Download the paper here.

Driving a vehicle is a key means by which individuals maintain independence and mobility. There are over 440 million people who hold a driving licence in Europe (60% of the European population). Policymakers have a responsibility to provide a framework or legislation to enable safe driving conditions for both drivers and other citizens.  Eye care clinicians need to be able to counsel patients about the visual criteria for driving, and correct and maximise vision for driving.

The European Commission Directives on driving licenses (EC Directives 2006/126/EC and 2009/113/EC) have been updated in recent years and member countries were required to align national standards to the directive by 2013.  In the Medical Annex of the 2009 directive, minimum visual standards are stated to ensure drivers meet a safe visual standard for driving.

However, member countries have different systems and protocols in place to screen drivers’ vision both for acquisition and renewal of driving licences, and thus we are still some way from harmony in the application of driving standards across Europe. A recent Cochrane review also noted that current vision screening regulations vary from country to country. This paper summarises national systems and demonstrates that there is continuing discrepancy in visual standards for driving across member states.

Therefore, there is a need to:

  • Advocate for the requirement of assessment of visual standards upon renewal of driving licence in Medical Annex of the EC directive
  • Standardise the visual acuity assessment method to ensure consistency in application of visual standards for driving.
  • Engage with member states to recognise that the licence plate test is not a measure of visual acuity
  • Ensure assessment is carried out by an eye care professional
  • Promote effective assessment of vision, visual fields, contrast sensitivity and twilight vision, clarify what such tests comprises to avoid discrepancy across member states
  • Encourage more research in effective assessment tools for measurement of visual functions.
  • Advocate for increased public awareness of fitness to drive.

This paper was spearheaded by the ECOO Working Group on Vision and Driving: Julie-Anne Little, Cindy Tromans, Ann Blackmore and Martin O’Brien.