My opinion is – certainly not!
It’s a privilege. But if that privilege is taken away human rights issues can be raised about the process.
As readers of this blog will know, I have lost the right-hand side of my vision.
If you’ve ever been for an eye test they probably measured your visual field – roughly speaking how far left and right you can see without moving your eyes. You stare into a sort of big bowl with one eye at a time, and press a clicker whenever you see a small point of light flash for a moment somewhere at the back of the bowl. Have you looked into that bowl?
Here is a sketch of my hospital result. Black means I’m blind in that part of my vision.
This condition is called homonymous hemianopia and typically results from stroke. In many countries it means you are automatically barred from driving.
This is a very serious loss, especially if you live away from big towns and cities, and have little public transport. Loss of mobility results in less independence, reduced job opportunities, and in lower quality of life.
It seems perfectly fair however that if a person’s vision loss makes them an unsafe driver they should not be driving. But there have been a growing number of challenges to the rule that homonymous hemianopia means a driving ban is imposed automatically without any other criteria being taken into account. It’s argued against as unconstitutional, or where there is no formal constitution, because it infringes human rights.
In 1999 Terry Grismer took his case to the Supreme Court of Canada.
As a result of a stroke he had homonymous hemianopia and his driver’s licence was taken away. He considered this was discrimination, because had compensated for the field loss by wearing special glasses with prisms that expanded to expand his field of view; by having extra mirrors fitted to his vehicle; and by systematically moving his head to take in a wider range.
In the circumstances he claimed should have been given the chance to take a driving test, not automatically barred. The court upheld his case.
More recently the Netherlands have accepted that someone with homonymous hemianopia could drive again, if they had a favorable opinion from a vision specialist and succeeded in passing an individual test (see my post Can I ever drive again? on this blog).
This willingness to rule on a less absolute basis seems to be becoming more common. In the UK the licensing authority (the DVLA) now accepts a more flexible approach. Its guidance provides for exceptional circumstances. In essence an applicant can be accepted if there is a favorable clinical assessment and they can pass an appropriate driving test.