A third of the Italians who have a driver's license do not have the minimum standards of eyesight that would be required to drive safely. This and other extremely worrying findings came out of a study promoted by Comitato Difesa Vista (Vision Defense Committee), an Italian industry body for the promotion of good eyesight, that will be used by Eurom 1, the European eyewear industry association, to back up its demand for more stringent European Union standards for the release and the renewal of driver's licenses at a meeting with members of the European Parliament and the European Commission in Strasbourg on July 7.

The standards vary widely from one country to another. The EU put out a rather liberal directive on the issue in 2006, but set up a working group to look into the opportunity of setting stricter criteria. Apparently for political reasons, some member governments have adopted very limited requirements for safe driving. In case of an accident and for prevention purposes, the police check for alcohol in the driver's blood, but not whether he or she had the proper sight correction.

Presented during an interesting all-day symposium organized at the Vision Business Forum in Rome last month, the Italian study found a correlation between road accidents and the eyesight of the drivers involved. Researchers from the Milan Bicocca Univeristy used a sample made up of 1,116 people of all social classes and professions, divided into age groups: 18-34, 35-49 and over 50. A little less than half the sample group wore glasses for driving.

While admitting that the method used to gather the data does not allow for precise statistics, the experts claim that their evidence is sufficient to prove this correlation, especially in light of new assessment criteria such as night vision and visual acuity. Based on the old criteria used in Italian sight tests for driving, 18.6 percent of the applicable sample showed sub-standard characteristics, rising to 32.2 percent with the addition of night vision and 55.77 percent with the inclusion of visual acuity and recognition of variable contrasts.

At the conference in Rome, it came out that many people use the same type of correction ? glasses or contact lenses ? for driving as they do on a daily basis, but that the glasses or lenses perform very differently depending on whether the wearer needs them to read the name of the caller on a mobile phone, or to enjoy full overall vision when driving at 130 km per hour.

The study found that 71 percent of subjects who had had more than one accident relatively recently had some form of defective vision. The link between accidents and eyesight also stands out from data on the frequency of accidents during the day. The peaks in the morning, between 8 and 9 a.m., and around 5 p.m., obviously correspond to the intensity of traffic on the way to and from work. But accident peaks between 6 and 7 p.m. seem to coincide with the failing light at the end of the day and the sun on the horizon that hits the driver right in the eyes when driving westward. And defective vision is certainly one of the factors in accident rates at night, often resulting in death, peaking at 4 in the morning.

The authors of the study propose to impose a minimum standard of 0.7 visual acuity, or at least 0.2 for weaker eye. They and the members of the Italian Commissione Difesa Vista also suggest some other solutions. One could be the release of specific driver's licenses that would allow certain people to drive only in daylight, for example. Another proposal is to force at least the drivers of public transport and heavy transport vehicles to keep a second pair of glasses specifically designed for driving in their glove compartment, and use it.

This particular requirement is advocated by Vittorio Tabacchi, the former president of Safilo who chairs the Commissione Difesa Vista and who is set to succeed Antoni Olivella as president of Eurom 1 next week. At the Vision Business Forum, Tabacchi noted that insurance companies are very supportive of his lobbying efforts in favor of more stringent requirements for safe driving.