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At Patterson Law, we deal with a large number of calls from individuals whose licences have been revoked by the DVLA for a whole host of reasons; from drug and alcohol misuse & heart problems, medical conditions including epilepsy, failed vision tests and everything in between.
With these advice calls, we often notice certain trends which seem to appear, and the current very strong trend is leaning very heavily against older drivers.
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Three Police forces (Thames Valley, Hampshire, and the West Midlands) have teamed up with ‘Brake’ (the road safety charity) and Vision Express, in order to set up an initiative to carry out roadside eyesight tests.
Roadside eyesight tests are not a new phenomenon, however this particular initiative sees every single motorist stopped by officers required to undertake the reading of a number plate from 20 metres. If the motorist fails, the Constable has the power to report the individual to the DVLA and request an urgent and immediate revocation of the motorist’s licence.
In the first two years of this power being operational, over 600 motorists had their licences revoked at the roadside by the Police; which shows a staggering number of people whose fitness to drive does not meet the DVLA medical vision test standards.
However, many of these people may have had no idea whatsoever that their eyesight was not up to the DVLA medical standard, and as such the immediate revocation of their licence would have come as a massive shock as they are left stranded at the side of the road, unable to drive their vehicle home.
The DVLA’s medical minimum eyesight standards are clearly laid down in their guidelines, and are surprisingly lenient. In good daylight, a motorist must be able to read a standard number plate at a distance of 20 metres.
Further, a driver must have ‘visual acuity’ of Snellen 6/12 in both eyes – this means that the person would have to approach a letter at 6 metres to be able to read it where a person with normal acuity would be able to read it at 12 metres.
Through our free DVLA Medical Advice service, we deal with a number of older motorists whose licences have been revoked due to cognitive impairment and visual inattention amongst a host of other reasons.
However, older drivers will only flag up on the DVLA’s radar if they are reported for a medical condition, either under the obligation to self-report, or by a third party (usually a medical professional).
However, we are seeing more and more instances of individuals who have been sold down the river by the Police under the guise of an ‘alternative to prosecution’.
Patterson Law have been involved in cases with both Dorset Police, and Norfolk Police, where a new ‘driveability’ scheme had initially been piloted. This has now been nationally rolled out through police forces in England & Wales.
The scheme works as follows: Mr A, an older gentleman (currently the schemes apply to drivers over 70, however this age may lower with time), is involved in a minor road traffic incident.
The Police investigate the incident, and deem that there is sufficient evidence to charge Mr A for driving without due care and attention (careless driving), and so they issue out a notice of intended prosecutions.
1. Contest the matter and take it to Court – The police warn Mr A that if he is found guilty there will be hefty fines and costs; 2. Accept a fixed penalty – This will be 3 points and a £100 fine; 3. Attend a ‘DriveAbility’ driving assessment – The police explain to Mr A that this is by far the best option; it means that the prosecution will be stopped, no points on his licence, no fine, and no need to attend Court. The only very minor catch is that he needs to do a tiny driving assessment.
Mr A accepts Option 3, which sounds like a great deal! He attends the assessment centre (run by the DriveAbility charity) with a friend and first has to undertake a cognitive assessment with an occupational therapist. After a rigorous and in-depth cognitive assessment including reaction times, comprehension, attention, and reasoning, he is then taken to the test car.
Mr A is asked to drive for 30-45 minutes in a vehicle he is not familiar with, on roads that he is not familiar with. Mr A is assessed by both an approved driving examiner as well as an occupational therapist on reaction times, safety, response to commands, response to criticism/suggestions, amongst other things.
At the end, Mr A is told that he has failed the assessment. He drives home frustrated, but thinking nothing further of it.
A few weeks later, Mr A receives a letter from the DVLA informing him that they have received a report that his fitness to drive does not meet the standards required by the Honorary Medical Advisory Panel, and as such his entitlement to drive is permanently revoked – a huge and unexpected blow for him.
Whilst the scheme itself comes with admirable intentions (and with the support and backing of the former Downton Abbey Actor Lord Julian Fellowes), there is an element here of tricking older drivers into shooting themselves in the foot.
If Mr A had accepted Option 2, he would have had 3 points on his licence and would have continued to drive. Although on the flip side, he may not have been safe to drive and could have posed a danger on the road.
If Mr A had accepted Option 1, he may have been able to cast doubt on the prosecution case and prove that his standard of driving did not fall below that of a reasonable and competent driver, thus showing he is not guilty of the offence. However, the Court can only adjudicate on the conduct alleged, and even if not guilty it cannot be conclusively proven that Mr A is fit to drive the rest of the time.
This is therefore a very difficult situation for older drivers, as many may see Option 3 as a form of diversion away from prosecution in the same manner as a Speed Awareness or Driver Improvement Course. However this is not the case, and a DriveAbility assessment has the potential to result in a far worse outcome for the motorist than 3 points and a fine.
If you have failed a DVLA DriveAbility Course please CONTACT US using the button below and speak to Paula Hadleigh for a free, no obligation advice call. She may be able to help you get back on the road.
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