Fair Go: Is there a blind spot in New Zealand's driver licence eye testing?

Renewing your driver's licence sounds so simple. Fill in a form, take a quick eyesight test, pay your fee and off you go.

Your playlist will load after this ad

Every year up to 24,000 New Zealanders fail the driver licence eye test when actually their vision is crystal clear. Source: Fair Go

But that's not how it is for thousands of Kiwis every year. Steve Bourne is one such person who was left with frustration rather than a new licence, and he says it's all because of the AA's eyesight testing device.

Steve lives in the small township of Waitate, outside Dunedin. He relies on his car for all his transport, and didn't expect there'd be any issue with renewing his licence, and certainly not with the eyesight test, as he's proud of how good his sight is.

Yet when he looked into the testing device he could only make out three lines of letters, despite being told there were four. The AA tester told him he'd failed. Steve thought this was very strange, especially when he heard his electrician had the same problem. He looked online and saw they were far from alone.

Having failed, Steve had to pay a visit to the optician. He got a free test, as he's a member with the AA, but non-members would have to pay $60 for this second test. As expected, Steve's more thorough test at Specsavers showed that his eye sight was perfectly good enough for driving, so he took his certificate back to the AA to get his licence.

Specsavers spokesperson Nigel admitted they occasionally see people that have failed the test unnecessarily. He couldn't explain why it happened, except to say that, "it's the nature of a screening test".

Steve was dissatisfied. It made him angry to have to go through a second test simply because the AA testing device didn't give the correct result.

NZTA say that two to four per cent of drivers fail the test despite having good eyesight. That's 12,000 to 24,000 people each year.

Steve can't believe they've kept using the device since 1999, knowing that this problem exists. He got in touch with both the AA and NZTA, as well as Fair Go, in order to highlight the issue. Fair Go had actually addressed the problem back in 2006, so we agree it's high time something was done.

We contacted the NZTA and they agreed the issue wasn't new, but felt that the test that is used worldwide caused few problems overall. However, they did acknowledge the test isn't perfect and said they would now conduct a review to see if something could be done to avoid this problem in the future.

Steve suggested the UK approach. There, sight is considered good enough for driving if a car registration plate can be correctly read at a distance of twenty metres. The NZTA is currently taking submissions regarding changes to the driving licence system, so now would be a good time for any other drivers to have their say.