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Eye (Lond). 2003 Jul;17(5):579-82.

Visual acuity and legal visual requirement to drive a passenger vehicle.

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Ophthalmology Department, Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham, UK.



(1). To test the consistency and ease with which number-plates of different component figures can be read under DVLA driving test conditions; (2). to test the relative difficulty of reading corresponding figures on registration plates of white and yellow backgrounds.Design Prospective study of consecutive eligible clinic patients.


Ophthalmology outpatients.


210 individuals with a corrected visual acuity with both eyes open of between 6/9 and 6/12.


The ability to read three different number-plates under standard DVLA driving-test conditions (ie at 20.5 m in good daylight with glasses if worn) and the ability to read identical number-plates against a white and a yellow background.


There is a significant difference between the ease with which three different number-plates can be read depending on their letter and numeral composition, although this did not seem to be significantly affected by whether they were printed on a yellow or white background. Only 92.3% of subjects could read all the number-plates at the legal distance, 96.7% could read at least one number-plate at the legal distance and 3.3% of the test subjects could not read any of the number-plates at 20.5 m.


The current test protocol used to obtain a driving licence and, moreover, the test the police will employ to assess visual competence to drive, is highly variable and is unlikely to give consistent repeatable results. The performance of those with equally good visual acuity is unpredictable and is highly dependent on the number-plate they are asked to read. This variability could exclude some who would otherwise pass the test or pass an individual with a visual acuity below accepted standards. The forthcoming changes in the regulations for design of number-plates is an ideal opportunity to standardise the whole testing procedure for driving visual acuity.

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