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Minimum legal eyesight standards for drivers

The law requires that all drivers meet the following eyesight standard:

In good daylight, you must be able to read a standard motor vehicle number plate at a distance of 20 metres (20 metres is about 5 car lengths), with the aid of glasses or contact lenses if necessary; if you need glasses or contact lenses to correctly read the number plate you must wear these whenever you drive. This is a legal requirement that must be complied with.

The law also requires that all drivers comply with the minimum field of vision as laid down by DVLA, your optician would be able to advise you about this.

If you are unable to meet this standard the law says that you must not drive, so you are not allowed to take a driving lesson. Make an appointment with your local optician for an eye test and they will arrange for glasses or contact lenses to correct your eyesight, you must wear these whenever you drive. If the optician says that your eyesight cannot be corrected you must notify the DVLA, which will refuse or revoke your driving licence.

The legal standard is determined by the reading of a vehicle number plate at the distance of 20 metres. Opticians may state that your eyesight meets the legal standard after testing your eyes in the consulting room but you must be able to correctly read a vehicle number plate at a distance of 20 metres to meet the legal standard. (See below for details of the DVSA number plate test)

Applying for your first provisional driving licence

When you are completing the application for your first provisional driving licence you will be asked to confirm that you can read a number plate from the required distance and asked whether you need to wear glasses or corrective lenses to do this.

You are required to make this declaration as part of the licence application but you do not need to make a separate declaration to DVLA to notify the medical unit of short or long sightedness requiring you to wear glasses or contact lenses.

If you tick the ‘no’ box when asked if you can meet the legal eyesight standard for driving, your application will be refused.

If you declare in your licence application that you need to wear glasses or corrective lenses when driving, your licence will then be coded 01 for eyesight correction.

DVSA number plate test

On a driving test the examiner will carry out an eyesight check before the test starts. They will ask you to read a number plate which is obviously more than 20 metres away, if you are not able to read it they should then ask you to read another plate and if necessary, allow you to walk forward until you are just over the appropriate distance away.

If the second plate is not read correctly, the examiner must use an official tape to measure the precise distance from a third plate. If you fail to correctly read the third plate, you would be informed that you have not reached the required eyesight standard and that the remainder of the test would not be carried out; you would lose the test fee.

If you passed the eyesight check using glasses to read a number plate but then removed them to drive, the examiner would point out if you can only read the number plate with the aid of glasses, that the law requires them to be worn whenever you are driving. If you subsequently take your glasses off during the drive, you would be informed that unless they are worn when driving, the test will be terminated.

If the number plate test is failed the examiner will report this to DVLA who will immediately revoke your driving licence; no driving is then permitted so you are not permitted to drive away from the test centre or take any further driving lessons.

You would then need to apply for your licence to be reinstated and DVLA should advise you to have an eye test and to get glasses/contact lenses if these are necessary. They would then send you for another eyesight check at a DVSA driving test centre and if this number plate test is passed your provisional licence should be reinstated; you would only then be permitted to resume driving lessons and book a further practical test. When you re-take your driving test a normal eyesight check would need to be undertaken and must be passed before the test can commence.

Special needs adjustments for candidates with reading difficulties or dyslexia

If the driving test examiner is aware a candidate has dyslexia or other special need they should establish if any adjustments are required for the eyesight test.

Candidates may find it easier to write down the letters and numbers rather than reading them out, this is deemed to be a reasonable adjustment or they could use a pre-printed chart to point to the numbers and letters to identify them. Candidates may also read back to front or in a non-uniform order and may have difficulty distinguishing between certain images, for example B and 8, D and O, 5 and S.

Black on yellow (rear number plates) are ordinarily easier to distinguish by most dyslexic candidates but some people may find that black on white (front number plates) are easier to read.

The test candidate does not need to actually ‘read’ the number plate, they just have to demonstrate that they can see it. If they can draw the shapes of the numbers and letters on a sheet of paper to show that they can identify the numbers and letters on the number plate, this should be accepted. Alternatively they could point to the numbers and letters on a pre-printed chart to demonstrate that they can see them.

For these more extreme difficulties with reading it may be necessary to confirm the special needs requirements for the eyesight test with the local driving test manager (LDTM) before the test day, they should be able to give advice and may be prepared to confirm that the pupil’s eyesight meets the minimum standard, by conducting a number plate test at the test centre before the test day. The eyesight test is though an integral part of the DVSA practical driving test and must be successfully completed before starting the driving part of the test.

The eyesight test is a legal requirement and the correct procedure must be carried out. However, providing the test is not undermined, common sense should be applied where the numbers or letters are ambiguous.

Updated 31.01.2023