What the EU-imposed driving licence changes will mean for those with medical conditions

What the EU-imposed driving licence changes will mean for those with medical conditions

Drivers in the UK must meet a minimum standard of physical ability to obtain a driving licence. This ranges from being able to read a number plate from a set distance to being of sound body and mind to reliably and safely drive a car.

This criterion differs from country to country, but in the UK our driver licensing laws are based on the EU’s second directive on the subject.

There are, however, a new set of EU guidelines – the third directive – that came into force in January this year. This details changes to drivers suffering from impaired vision or epilepsy.

Most of the changes are minor, but some are significant, with the EU looking to continually improve safety and the ability to monitor drivers’ conditions.

2013 changes to drivers with visual impairments

There’s no need to worry – the UK’s standards for visual acuity (sharpness of vision) exceed the EU’s and have done for some time.

The major area of reform here will actually lower the minimum standard, with a slight alteration to the ‘read the number plate’ part of the driving test – now conducted at a distance of 17.5m for letters 79mm high and 50mm wide using corrective lenses.

The same goes for drivers with vision in only one eye, with standards for their ‘worse’ eye being dropped by 80% – 0.5 to 0.1 on the EU’s Snellen visual scale.

For drivers with both binocular and monocular vision – or an outstanding condition with their eyes – “there should be no adverse impact on road safety arising from the small relaxation in the visual acuity standard,” according to the European Union.

On top of this, new standards for contrast sensitivity – the ability to differentiate between light and dark – will also be introduced for drivers with previously impaired contrast sensitivity, as will a new examination checking the width of a driver’s visual field.

2013 changes to drivers suffering from epilepsy

The current guidelines in the UK for drivers suffering from epilepsy are that motorists have to be free from an epileptic attack for at least 12 months to obtain a driving licence – although different rules do apply to seizures occurring only in sleep.

These meet the new EU ruling, but it’s standards surrounding adjustment of epilepsy medication that will come in for change.

The Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency recommends that the UK adopts a new stance on epilepsy treatment and driving.

Sufferers of seizures because of “physician-directed change, reduction or withdrawal of anti-epileptic therapy”, as it’s put in the EU guidelines, may be allowed to drive only six months after their medication is stopped, as opposed to the usual 12-month hiatus.

Overall, then, the changes are only minor, but with comparison of UK and EU driver licencing guidelines with respect to vision and epilepsy, the new proposals are designed to make the law fairer and safer for those affected.