King's Birthday weekend: Optometrists caution road safety after research finds 71 pct of drivers struggle to see road signs

Woman struggling to see road signs while driving, inset photo of man struggling to see
Photo credit: Supplied / Getty Images

Ahead of the imminent King's Birthday weekend, New Zealand Police are once again disseminating road safety messaging as Kiwis prepare for their three-day break - and with good reason. 

New research has revealed more than two-thirds of Kiwi drivers have admitted struggling to see road signs, while a further 20 percent said they've struggled to spot traffic lights. Almost a fifth also revealed they've missed pedestrian crossings. 

The online survey, conducted between March and April 2023, was commissioned by Specsavers and comprised 1000 Kiwis with a driving licence. 

The sobering results have now prompted Specsavers' optometrists to issue an urgent warning to all New Zealanders, urging everyone who struggles to see crucial signage when driving to get an eye test.

The research, which was undertaken by 3Gem, has worried experts that many Kiwis are dismissing tell-tale signs that they might have impaired eyesight, putting themselves and others at risk on the road. In the survey, 71 percent of participants admitted struggling to see road signs while driving, while 16 percent said they've missed zebra crossings. 

Winter weather, including heavy rain, sunstrike and snow-blindness, can make for even more challenging conditions for those with impaired vision.

"There is obviously a lot to consider when driving safely, but eyesight needs to be one of them. Waiting until it is too late can be costly in more ways than one," Auckland optometrist, David Aldridge, said in a statement.

"Even seemingly minor eye health problems can compromise vision leaving people unable to safely identify road signs, markings, and even see their own dashboard speedometer."

Woman struggling to see road signs while driving
Photo credit: Supplied

According to the research, almost 50 percent of people aged 35 to 64 have not had an eye test in the past five years, which Aldridge says is a concern.

"Eye checks done when a licence is issued are only screening tests for visual awareness and visual fields, so it's important to also see a trained optometrist for a complete, comprehensive eye test. We encourage everyone to get an eye test every two years, or sooner if you notice an issue or change to vision. Not all eye conditions present with obvious symptoms, so skipping a routine check-up can mean you lose valuable treatment and prevention time," he said. 

"Common conditions like glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and macular degeneration can cause permanent vision loss without noticeable symptoms in their early stages, but if an eye disease is diagnosed and managed before it shows symptoms, there is an opportunity to preserve vision."

Man struggling to see while driving
Photo credit: Getty Images

Greig Leighton, chief partnerships officer of AA New Zealand, noted that AA members can get a free eye test every two years through its partnership with Specsavers. Free eye checks are also offered through Specsavers every two years to New Zealanders under the age of 16, while a range of subsidised services and products are available to those on lower incomes with Government-issued Community Services Cards. Alternatively, those 16 and under can get a free eye test with the purchase of glasses at OPSM, and Southern Cross members receive a complimentary comprehensive eye exam with a digital retinal scan each year.

In a press release on Thursday, New Zealand Police urged motorists to drive carefully and patiently over the long weekend, with officers to maintain an active and visible presence throughout the roading network. 

"At this time of year, the weather is unpredictable and it’s generally worse than other times of the year. Please remember to check your speeds and to watch your following distances. When the weather is terrible you need space and time to react," said Superintendent Steve Greally, director of the National Road Policing Centre.

If you see poor driving, you can report it to police by calling 111 or *555.