Driv­ing li­cence blues

Spend­ing $400 for a $43.90 test

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS - By LIZ WYLIE

‘‘Re­new­ing your li­cence is a quick and easy process,’’ I learned from the NZ Trans­port Agency web­site.

Un­for­tu­nately, that wasn’t the case for me. I found the process proved to be time-con­sum­ing and ex­pen­sive.

I be­lieved my eye­sight was likely to have de­te­ri­o­rated in the past 10 years, so it seemed wise to get it tested by an op­tometrist be­fore re­new­ing my li­cence.

Spec­savers was of­fer­ing free test­ing for Au­to­mo­bile As­so­ci­a­tion mem­bers, so I took up the of­fer and was told that my left eye was a bit weak, but that my sight was good enough to drive with­out glasses.

I did not own a car and was not driv­ing, so I left it for a while be­fore go­ing to an AA cen­tre to re­new the li­cence. What I had not re­alised was that the eye­sight test re­sult was valid for only 60 days.

There­fore I was re­quired to un­dergo a test on one of the ma­chines at AA.

Hav­ing passed the op­tometrist test, I saw no rea­son why I would fail this one. But I did – the left­hand col­umn was a com­plete blur.

Back to Spec­savers I went and I was given pre­scrip­tion glasses based on my pre­vi­ous test.

Armed with my new glasses, I re­turned to AA, believ­ing I could re­sit the test while wear­ing them.

But no. I was told that I could not re­sit the test with glasses be­cause I was in the sys­tem as hav­ing failed it with­out them.

What I needed to do, I was told, was to go back to an op­tometrist and have an­other test to de­ter­mine whether I re­ally did need glasses for driv­ing.

The sec­ond test re­turned the same re­sults as the first – my left eye is weak but my right one com­pen­sates enough for me to drive with­out cor­rec­tive lenses.

A li­cence re­newal fee of $43.90 had stretched to a cost of more than $400.

I am happy to have the glasses. They make things look a lot sharper when I’m watch­ing TV and they will save my over­worked right eye from car­ry­ing the weak left one.

But I am un­happy about hav­ing to spend money on glasses at a time when I could ill af­ford it. It was not a nec­es­sary ex­pense, as it turned out.

My first ques­tion was: why I would pass one eye­sight test and fail an­other?

Op­tometrist Fo­rum Pa­tel said the tests car­ried out by an op­tometrist would de­ter­mine a lot of things, whereas the ma­chines at li­cens­ing cen­tres were specif­i­cally test­ing the sight in each eye.

‘‘The ma­chines at the li­cens­ing cen­tres are high in sen­si­tiv­ity, but low in speci­ficity. They would pick up the weak­ness in your left eye, but they wouldn’t pick up the fact that your right eye is ad­e­quately com­pen­sat­ing for it,’’ he said.

AA spokesman David McLis­ter said the ma­chines had been in use since 1999 and were re­mark­ably sim­ple and ef­fi­cient.

‘‘They give an ac­cu­rate, ba­sic screen­ing, which tests dis­tance and pe­riph­eral vi­sion and 96.9 per cent of peo­ple pass the test each year,’’ he said.

Of the 3.1 per cent who do not pass, some dis­cover they need glasses for driv­ing and the rest are di­ag­nosed with other vis­ual anom­alies.

Mr McLis­ter said it was very im­por­tant for driv­ers aged over 50 to have their eye­sight checked by a pro­fes­sional, be­cause vi­sion could change af­ter that.

‘‘The years from mid-50s to the mid-60s and then again be­yond 65 are when dra­matic changes can hap­pen.’’

Op­tometrists do not deem it nec­es­sary to test a per­son’s eye­sight more of­ten than once ev­ery two years so why does the NZ Trans­port Agency stip­u­late that a test is valid for only 60 days?

NZ Trans­port Agency spokesman An­thony Frith said the time frame was en­shrined in law.

‘‘Most things are valid for 60 days. If some­one needs a med­i­cal cer­tifi­cate for in­stance, it’s valid for 60 days.

‘‘We send out re­minders when a li­cence is due to ex­pire and that is usu­ally two months’ no­tice, so it’s the same time frame.’’

Mr Pa­tel said it was not just about the abil­ity to see clearly. ‘‘The tests can re­veal con­di­tions such as di­a­betes and glau­coma and some con­di­tions are asymp­to­matic, so they won’t be picked up any other way.’’

Li­cences can be re­newed at an AA cen­tre, a Ve­hi­cle Test­ing New Zealand de­pot or a Ve­hi­cle In­spec­tion New Zealand site.

Photo: AN­DREA O’NEIL

Un­clear vi­sion: Jour­nal­ist Liz Wylie ran into has­sle and ex­pense while try­ing to pass the eye­sight com­po­nent of the Au­to­mo­bile As­so­ci­a­tion’s driver’s li­cence test.

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