Published On: Wed, Mar 8th, 2023

Including vision screening in National Road Safety Plan can prevent crashes, say non-profits

Representational file image of a doctor examining a patient
at an eye screening camp

Representational file image of a doctor examining a patient
at an eye screening camp
| Photo Credit: R. Ragu

With the Supreme Court-appointed Committee on Road Safety observing that there are 1.5 lakh annual deaths due to road crashes, leading eye health organisations are now calling for the inclusion of vision check-ups for drivers in the National Road Safety Plan (NRSP).

While the package of preventive measures in the plan include wearing seat belts, reducing speed, road and intersection design, and not overloading, there is an urgent need to include vision correction activities for drivers of commercial vehicles in the plan, say leading non-profits in the eye healthcare space.

Four non-profits — VisionSpring, India Vision Institute (IVI), Sightsavers India, and Mission for Vision — have screened up to 13.55 lakh (1.35 million) commercial vehicle drivers, helpers, cleaners, mechanics and other transport workers in India. “Providing eye health services to a floating population in a sustainable manner is a huge challenge and there is a need to build eye screenings into the National Road Safety Plan,” they said in a joint statement.

The IVI screened 1.8 lakh commercial vehicle drivers and allied staff and found that nearly half of those requiring spectacles were first-time wearers, Vinod Daniel, CEO of IVI said. “24% had trouble seeing distant objects, and over 2% had refractive errors over 2D, thus severely compromising their distance vision,” he added.

“Mission for Vision’s research amongst truckers shows that 45.8% had a refractive error, among whom 39.1% required correction for both near and distance vision in at least one eye,” Elizabeth Kurian, CEO, Mission for Vision, said.

“It has been established by traffic safety research groups that uncorrected vision issues are common among drivers, regular eye testing for vision prevents road accidents and should be included for road safety and drivers’ well-being,” Anil Kumar, Additional Director General of Health Services, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), said.

While the MoHFW has endorsed the move, it is now up to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) to include regular vision screening in its road safety activities. At present, eye check-up camps organised by the MoRTH are more of a one-off activity, a senior MoRTH official said. The last camp was conducted during the National Road Safety Month between mid-January to mid-February in 2022. The choice of places to conduct the camps was indicated as toll plazas, wayside amenities, dhabhas (eateries), and towns across National Highways, the MoRTH has indicated in its proposal. “After the camps were conducted last year, we are in the process of evaluating its financial implications for the government now,” the official added.

Apart from participating in screening camps conducted by the MoRTH, Sightsavers India has been running a project called ‘RAAHI – National Truckers Eye Health Programme’ at major National Highways, over the last five years. “Through 20 static vision centres and 40 camp locations spread across 54 cities in 16 States, Sightsavers’ RAAHI programme has been able to reach to nearly six lakh truck drivers who travel along India’s Golden Quadrilateral and other highways. The project has provided 2.7 lakh spectacles have been distributed to the truck driving communities,” said RN Mohanty, CEO, Sightsavers India.

“Optimal visual health is crucial for drivers to be able to keep track of the various road signs, road furniture and infrastructure, and quickly navigate sudden movements by other road users,” Piyush Tewari, founder and CEO, SaveLIFE Foundation, said.

“For commercial drivers, a vision test must be mandated every year and should be made available free of charge along various highways, along with the provision of low-cost prescription glasses. For commuting drivers, it is recommended that a competent vision test be conducted at the time of issuance and renewal of the driving license. Police must also include vision testing as part of their crash investigation process,” he added.

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