A 32-year-old who has been learning to drive since he was 18 made a shock discovery – his vision was so poor that he was getting behind the wheel illegally – and the danger posed by his sight impairment had been overlooked by his instructor.

Gavin Paxton, from Whitley Bay, had been suffering from headaches and was struggling to read road signs during his lessons, yet was never advised to have his eyes checked. In fact, self-confessed nervous driver Gavin had no idea that a 20m number plate check would be a mandatory practical element of his test.

He is now backing the Vision Express ‘Eye Tests Save Lives’ campaign, which is calling for the controversial 20m check to be scrapped and replaced with mandatory sight checks for all UK motorists every ten years. By chance, Gavin had an eye test on the Vision Express Vision Van when it toured the North East in October 2018.

Chris Froment, the optometrist who conducted his eye test, said: “Gavin was unable to read a number plate at 20m, which was very worrying because he is a learner driver. When tested, he couldn’t read the chart to a good enough standard, even with his glasses on. He was wearing a prescription of +2, but thorough testing suggested he should be a +4, which is a dramatic change.”

Gavin said: “I’ve been learning to drive on and off since I was 18, and now I know that I’ve been behind the wheel illegally for a long time – two years, maybe more. Who knows what could have happened if I had carried on driving. I could have killed someone.

“I’m a nervous driver as it is. During my lessons, reading road signs has been difficult. The instructor would tell me to follow the signs and I’d have to say, ‘wait, I need to get a little closer to read it’. It was never suggested that I should get my eyes tested, so I think there should be better training for driving instructors, to make sure they’re making students aware that a good standard of vision is crucial, right from day one of lessons.”

Gavin’s story echos new Vision Express data, collected from over 1,000 UK eye tests onboard its high tech, mobile Vision Van. It found that: • 2 in 3 (65%) people were wearing an incorrect prescription • 52% of motorists confessed to not always wearing their vision correction while driving • 7% – that’s 2.8 million licence-holders – are putting lives at risk by getting behind the wheel because their vision unaided was either below the legal standard to drive, or borderline.

However, unlike 81% of people, who neglect to have a regular eye test, Gavin had visited an optician two years earlier. He said: “I was getting headaches and straining to read, but I kept wearing the glasses I had, thinking it was normal and something I just had to live with.

“I definitely support Vision Express making eye tests a requirement for drivers. I didn’t realise that after passing your test there is no law that says you need to get your eyes checked by an optician. It makes me feel really unsafe that people are putting the lives of others at risk every day, when a simple test could make all the difference. You get your car checked for issues, but not the driver. You’re in control of the car, not the other way around. It should be essential to check the driver is fit to use the vehicle.”