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HGV drivers face eye-test threat

Thousands of short-sighted lorry and bus drivers face losing their jobs because of new European regulations which will force them to take eye tests without their glasses on. Drivers who fail to meet a new minimum requirement in the test will lose their licence.

Even drivers who wear contact lenses will not be exempt from the safety measure because the lenses could pop out and temporarily blind them.

Under the present law, HGV licence holders and bus and coach drivers must have their eyesight tested every five years once they reach 45. The new rules will apply from July. Drivers who meet the minimum requirement will be allowed to stay on the road and continue to wear their spectacles.

Hauliers said yesterday that the ruling could affect thousands of drivers. Bob Terris, managing director of Meachers Transport, Southampton, which employs nearly 100 drivers, said: "It's ridiculous . . . another of the European Union's stupid rules, and it will create a real vacuum in the employment market."

Jim Good, 54, of Southampton, who will undergo the test in three years' time when his licence is up for renewal, said: "I've been driving for 25 years and my glasses haven't ever fallen off. At the moment I can pass an eyesight test very comfortably with my glasses on. That's the point of me wearing them. I shall not be able to continue with my employment. It's as simple as that."

Jennie Sandle, spokeswoman for the transport union TGWU said: "The government has estimated three thousand people will lose their jobs. But we think the figure could be much higher - as many as 25 per cent of drivers could lose their jobs."

The roads minister Steven Norris said: "Only a relatively small number of existing drivers will be affected . . . but the consequences for them may be serious and I have every sympathy with them. None the less, accidents involving these large vehicles could be disastrous."

A Department of Transport spokesman said that the new ruling "is a responsible road safety measure".