Driving licence blues
Spending $400 for a $43.90 test
‘‘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.
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.