An elderly lady with failing eyesight runs her car into a cyclist on a country lane, causing him some slight injury and torn clothing. This will sound familiar to listeners of BBC Radio 4’s The Archers. But what does the law say about motorists who find themselves in this situation? A brief discussion of the issues.
Driving with failing eyesight
The law specifies the minimum acuity level for motorists – the standard is higher for taxi drivers and commercial drivers. The minimum eyesight standard is set out in Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) Regulations 1999, which was amended in March 2013. You can see (or not) the standards here. The DVLA will revoke the licences of motorists who do not meet the standard. Where a motorist has her licence revoked by the DVLA, she can appeal to the magistrates’ court.
But what of the motorist who is in denial about failing eyesight? Those who quite naturally don’t want to lose their independence and have trouble accepting their failing health? Driving without meeting the standard is an offence resulting in 3 penalty points. The penalty points are particularly relevant to a motorist who drives without wearing their glasses, or who refuses to take an eye test.
In The Archers, Jill Archer collided with a cyclist (her grandson), knocking him off his bike. Is there any liability here?
Careless driving is an offence under Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, which can result in disqualification from driving. The question would be whether Jill’s driving fell below the standard expected of a competent and careful driver. If Jill knew that her eyesight was failing, it would tend to support the prosecution case that she was not being a careful driver: she told David, ‘I just didn’t see him.’ Ultimately, we don’t know anything about the road layout, sight lines, driving conditions, weather, Jill’s speed, or the behaviour of Josh the cyclist as he pulled out, so advising on liability for this offence is impossible at this stage. Suffice to say, the question would be whether a competent and careful driver would have had the same collision as Jill.
Failing to report
The law states that a motorist who has had an accident must stop immediately and be prepared to supply their name and address. There’s no technical definition of ‘accident,’ but knocking someone of their bike is pretty obviously encompassed.
In Jill Archer’s situation there’s no practical requirement for her to give her name and address to her grandson, but is she obliged to report the accident to the police station? That’s always a thorny issue, because the motorist may well think to herself, ‘If I tell the police I’ll only make it worse – I may be prosecuted!’ In fact, failing to report an accident is the most serious of the three offences considered, and is imprisonable.
Since there is no injury to Josh, there is no requirement for Jill to make a report to the police or produce her insurance documents. Although she might yet be prosecuted for driving with poor eyesight or careless driving, it’s unlikely that her family members would tip off the DVLA or police, and very unlikely that Josh would support a prosecution of his grandmother. In the circumstances, Jill’s had a very lucky escape. Of course, she should resist the urge to tweet about it.
Jon Mack is a barrister at Blackfriars Chambers, and tweets @JonDMack
 Road Traffic Act 1988 s.100
 Hallinan v DPP  Crim LR 754, DC