A number of drivers were wrongly banned from driving because of a faulty eyesight test machine, it has emerged.
The Driver and Vehicle and Licensing Agency (DVLA) has contacted 604 motorists over the last few months to admit a field vision analyser used by DVLA-accredited optometrists between 2010 and 2015 was unreliable.
78-year-old Derek Harlow, who was banned from driving after failing an eyesight test in April 2013, decided to complain after he passed a reassessment. The DVLA responded with a ‘not-our-fault’ letter.
“When the initial elation subsided, I felt aggrieved that my life has been disrupted so needlessly. I have complained to the DVLA but have received a ‘not-our-fault’ letter obviously encouraging me to take no further action,” he told the Guardian newspaper.
He added: “Surely the DVLA cannot absolve itself of the responsibility having contracted specific opticians to carry out the eye tests on its behalf? I had no choice as to which optician to use.”
Harlow, who suffers from glaucoma and is his disabled wife’s carer, sold his Vauxhall Corsa for £1,800 when he lost his licence and has since had to spend £5,200 on a replacement Toyota Yaris in addition to funding two-and-a-half years of bus, taxi and train travel.
“We’ve lost a lot of money through no fault of our own. We also lost much of our independence. My wife and I have had more than 50 years of freedom of travel, including many trips abroad by car and campervan. That all came to a sudden stop in April 2013.”
80 per cent of the drivers wrongly banned who reapplied for a driving licence have been allowed to drive again. Meanwhile 71 are still are waiting to be reassessed and 232 have failed to respond to the letter.
Motorists with certain medical conditions have to reapply for a driving licence every one to three years and go for an eye test at an optometrist appointed by the DVLA.
The test involves a flashing light and this is where the issue arose. A software glitch meant the lights shone less brightly than they should have, meaning those who took the test will have had a more difficult task to see them.
The DVLA said it is in no way to blame. A spokesperson for the agency explained: “As this software issue originated at the point of manufacture and not as a result of any action or inaction by the DVLA, we are not responsible for any losses that might have resulted from the defect.
“The fault with this particular piece of equipment seems to have originated from an inherent software defect and, although the model has been in circulation for a few years, the defect has only recently been identified.”
To make matters worse for those affected, the DVLA is said to be keeping the name of the equipment manufacturer to itself. In the case of Harlow, the practice where he took the test has since been shut down.
Civil litigation and dispute resolution lawyer Nitin Khandhia of solicitors BTMK said the “consequences of this situation could be very far reaching” and that there “may be potential for compensation or damages”.
Former optometrist Jenny Hirst hundreds is worried other drivers may have been wrongly taken off the road because of the test machines, which “were never designed to test ability to drive and the results take no account of individuality”.
The International Glaucoma Association (IGA) said it was ‘extremely concerned‘ a machine fault has led to some people who suffer from the eye disease to be taken off the road.
IGA CEO Russell Young added: “Relinquishing a driving licence is an emotional issue that can have a major impact on the driver’s quality of life. For some it can mean loss of employment and for many it means the loss of independence.
“It is vital people have absolute confidence in this test. It has to be carried out on equipment that has been scrupulously tested, be supervised by qualified people and carried out in a quiet location, without interruptions, to provide the applicant with the best chance of taking and passing the test.”
High-street optician Specsavers noticed the data anomalies that lead to the discovery of the fault. It took over testing in 2014 as part of an exclusive £8 million, four-year contract.