Eyesight and road safety: The link between poor drivers’ eyesight and road crashes

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By Stephen Macharia and Samwel Doe

Drivers should have regular eye tests to keep drivers with poor eyesight off the roads, Optometrists Association of Kenya secretary Evans Oduor has told Safari Njema. Oduor termed clear vision as “a critical element in road safety” and decried inadequate drivers’ visual acuity tests in Kenya prior to licensing.

He called for random but continuous drivers’ eye tests in the country, noting that there exists “affordable corrective devices such as glasses” available in the market that can “hugely improve driver’s vision”.

“If an eye doctor subjects you to read the letters on an eye chart, he/she is testing for visual acuity, or how clearly you can see. This test alone is not enough as some drivers do not undergo colour vision tests that would help ascertain their ability to identify colours of the traffic lights.

 

Colour blind drivers can easily cause road crashes,” he said. Colour blindness, or colour vision deficiency (CVD), affects approximately 1 in 12 men (8%) and 1 in 200 women in the world, says Colour Blind Awareness Organization. “Most colour blind people are able to see things as clearly as other people but they are unable to fully ‘see’ red, green or blue light.

There are different types of colour blindness and there are extremely rare cases where people are unable to see any colour at all,” the organization notes. This means colour-blind people are unable to discern when the traffic light indicates green or red, posing danger to other road users.

National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA), Road Safety Director, Njeri Waithaka, says that currently a driver’s eye test is not mandatory in Kenya. She, however, notes that the New Curriculum for Training, Testing and Licensing of Drivers, Instructors and Examiners states that every driver will be required to undergo full medical testing.

“Drivers who are 70 years and above will have to submit a medical report to NTSA every year to ascertain their medical fitness including visual fitness, the new curriculum also makes it mandatory for all drivers to go back to driving schools for retraining and full medical examination after every 10 years,” she said.

Implementation of the new curriculum faced hurdles after sections of requirements in the document were challenged in court. A health officer at North Star Alliance Mlolongo Wellness Centre also emphasized on the need to test drivers for visual acuity. In an interview with Safari Njema, Mr Emanuel Lemein, Mlolongo Roadside Wellness Centre Coordinator, lack of good eyesight for long distance drivers is a major contributor to road crashes.

Lemein said most truck drivers lack primary health care since the nature of their job demands them to be on transit. “Long distance drivers are forgotten in the provision of health care. Many health facilities are located far from the road, making health care inaccessible to truck drivers on transit,” he said. Lemein noted that the Mlolongo Wellness Centre tests eyesight for long distance drivers in addition to screening for sexually transmitted diseases (STIs), Malaria, and Tuberculosis among other ailments.

“This is in a bid to improve drivers’ wellbeing. Road safety is a major public health issue and we believe that a healthy driver drives safely,” he added. “We also undertake drivers through Snellen’s chart-Chart used to test eyesight-to help know the condition of their sights.” Eric points out lack of awareness around the need to address the impact of visual deficiencies amongst drivers as a risk to road crashes. A report by Safeway Right Way, a road safety NonGovernmental Organization, jointly with government agencies such NTSA and others maps out over 270 black spots between Mombasa and Malaba towns.

The report cites poor visibility, among other causes, as a contributor to road crashes on the road. Lemein urged long-distance truck drivers to regularly visit North Star Alliance wellness centres for a checkup. The organization clinics are located at Kipevu, Jomvu and Emali, Mlolongo, Mai-Mahiu, Salgaa and Burnt Forest along the northern corridor and are open from 08:00 to 17:00 hrs. “Our centres are conveniently located at places accessible to these drivers,” Lemein said. He adds that the centres offer HIV counselling and testing.

The mlolongo wellness centre also offers counselling on drug abuse cases as well as offering financial management advice to drivers. He says that the facility operates through connected digitized medical records that help them track visits and dispensing of drugs. “We also offer partner notification services (PNS) to our clients to enable the partners and spouses access treatments and testing once a driver has tested positive to ensure that everybody they cohabit with is covered under ARVs,” he adds.

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