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Millions Turn a Blind Eye to Dangerous Driving

Originally Published 11 August 2003

As many as 2.5 million adults in the UK are putting themselves and others at risk by deliberately ignoring the fact that they have bad eyesight. Most do so largely because of outdated information about contact lenses and preconceived ideas about glasses, a study by Dr June McNicholas, senior research psychologist at the University of Warwick, concluded today.

The findings came to light during a survey carried out in Glasgow, Manchester, Coventry and London, in which just under 1,000 adults who have not had eyesight correction were given a basic eye test and asked what they thought about contact lenses, glasses and laser eye surgery.

35% of the people who took part in the study failed a basic Snellen Chart test (the standard eyesight test used by opticians). Remarkably, 33% of the failures said they were “not surprised”. That is, they had taken a conscious decision NOT to have their vision corrected. Amongst them were accountants, architects, nurses, dentists and, incredibly, a taxi driver. Indeed, 65% of those who failed also drive cars.

“We know that half the UK population wear one form of vision correction or other,” said Dr McNicholas, “but if you thought the other half all have good eyesight, you’d be very wrong indeed.”

So why are this many people at best missing out on life’s pleasures; at worst putting themselves and others in danger? Dr McNicholas, from the University of Warwick, said: “We found that many people have a fear of contact lenses based on the idea that they haven’t changed since the hard lenses of the sixties – lenses that had more in common with the original ‘plate glass’ designs first proposed by Leonardo da Vinci. And when it comes to glasses, many of us still labour with the idea of NHS spectacle designs of the same era.”

The results showed that 78% of people cited discomfort as a reason why they would not have their eyesight corrected with contact lenses. 67% thought lenses would be a hassle. 60% also thought that lenses would pose a risk to their eyes.

Dr McNicholas said: “These beliefs bear no reflection on reality. Recent advances in contact lens manufacture and the development of new hydrogel materials now make it almost impossible to know you’re wearing lenses within a couple of minutes of first putting them in. The hassle of cleaning and storing lenses, and the already-low risk of infection have now been almost eliminated by the development of daily disposables.”

As to glasses, 73% thought they would find them irritating to wear and 52% didn’t like the way that glasses would make them look. Dr McNicholas said: “Every year, we see the development of more lightweight, comfortable designs that flatter the wearer as never before. People need to keep an eye on what’s available.”

For further information please contact: Jennifer Murray, University of Warwick, on Tel: 02476 574255 Mobile: 07876 217740 or Dr June McNicholas, Department of Psychology, Tel: 01854 633 796 Email: Notes to editors:

  • 989 took part in the survey, aged from 18 to 45, and older.
  • Laser eye surgery was seen as too expensive (73%), too risky (37%), or just that didn’t like “the idea of surgery on their eyes” (52%).