British law is clear: driving with a visual impairment is illegal. Yet Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s senior aide Dominic Cummings openly admitted to the offense during an hour-long press conference in the garden of 10 Downing Street on May 25.
“My eyesight appeared to have been affected by the disease,” Cummings read in a prepared statement, adding that he had arranged with his wife to “take a short drive to see if it was safe for me to drive.”
In subsequent radio and TV interviews, government ministers and Tory MPs lashed out in support of Cummings’ breach of the law, a 30-mile drive from Barnard Castle in County Durham.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, has admitted that he has committed similar driving offenses in the past.
When asked on BBC Radio 5 Live on May 27, Tory MP Gary Sambrook said driving with impaired eyesight for half an hour on A roads with a young child in the back seat was a “fair and reasonable thing to do”. .
Laughing, the show presenter said “Gary, Gary, Gary, Gary, come on”, but the Birmingham Northfield MP doubled down, adding “I believe it was an eye test and it was a physical endurance test.
Driving instruction bodies, motoring organisations, former police chiefs and MPs reacted with astonishment to Cummings’ initial claims and the subsequent support they received.
Sir Peter Fahy, Manchester’s former chief constable, told BBC Radio 4 Today’s program that the drive to Barnard Castle was “not the way to test your eyesight and potentially endanger other people”.
Edmund King of the Automobile Association told me that in 2018, uncorrected or faulty sight contributed to 196 road accidents, including three fatalities. When asked if Cummings’ driving with defective vision could be considered a “fair and reasonable thing to do”, the AA president replied, “no, an eye test should be done at the stop”.
Attorney David Allen Green told the FinancialTimes that Cummings’ explanation of driving to test faulty vision was “absurd”. Social media was ablaze with mockery of the sight claim minutes after Cummings made it.
Road Traffic Act 1988
“If a person drives a motor vehicle on a road while his eyesight is such that he cannot comply with any sight requirement, he is guilty of an offence,” states Section 96 of the UK Road Traffic Act 1988.
If Michael Gove, former Justice Secretary, is to be believed that he and Cummings are both guilty of this offence. Gove admitted as much to LBC radio presenter Nick Ferrari on May 26.
Would Gove do “a 60 mile round trip to test your eyesight?” asked Ferrari. Much to the presenter’s amusement, Gove claimed he had done the same thing in the past, although he couldn’t finish his sentence.
“I have, many times in the past, driven with my wife to make sure, what’s the right way to put it?”
Ferrari said he was “stunned” by this half-response which “simply asked him if you had ever done a 60 mile round trip to test your eyesight, and you said you had”.
MP Ruth Cadbury, co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on cycling and walking, was skeptical of the sight explanations. “For anyone a little concerned about their fitness to drive, it’s never okay to go onto the road network and potentially put yourself and other road users at risk,” he told me. she says.
“The apparent lack of importance attached to being a safe and responsible driver by some senior government officials is very concerning,” she added.
David Davies, executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Security, or PACTS, told me that he was “concerned by comments made to the media by some senior government officials, which seem to disregard the responsibilities of drivers for the safety of themselves, their passengers and other road users.
He added: “While the current government and public focus is rightly on preventing deaths from Covid-19, that does not mean that road safety should be neglected or compromised.”
Motorists’ and driving instructors’ organizations have also criticized Cummings and his defenders.
“In the interests of road safety, I would not recommend anyone drive a distance if they feel their vision is impaired,” said Peter Harvey, chairman of the Motor Schools Association of Great Britain.
Wouldn’t driving with impaired vision be a “just and reasonable thing to do”?
“No would be the simple answer,” Harvey replied.
Federation of Certified Driving Instructors General Manager Barbara Trafford told me:
“It is the driver’s responsibility to ensure they are fit to drive before getting behind the wheel.”
“It wouldn’t take half an hour or 30 miles to check his driving abilities,” she added.
Cummings’ claim that he felt dizzy and had to sit down for a while before driving off was, according to Trafford, ‘not a reasonable act, but an act endangering other road users “.
Neil Worth, road safety manager for the road rescue organization GEM Driving Assistanceagreed: “There’s simply no excuse for driving when you’re not sure you can see well, as you risk injuring yourself, your passengers and anyone else in your path. ”
(GEM stands for Guild of Experienced Motorists.)
Worth added that “driving for an hour to a local beauty spot is absolutely not the right way to go. [an eyesight test]. If you are concerned that your eyesight may be impaired or defective, even slightly, you should not drive.
Road safety organizations are appalled at the defense of Cummings by ministers and MPs.
“Drunk driving puts lives at risk, so if there’s any doubt about your fitness to drive, you simply shouldn’t,” said Joshua Harris, campaign director at the charity. for road safety. Brake.
“Driving is a complex and dangerous task, and a single misstep behind the wheel can have catastrophic consequences,” he said.
“All who use our roads have a responsibility to do everything possible to minimize risk to themselves and others.”
Road Danger Reduction Forum President Dr. Robert Davis believes Cummings admitted a “flagrant violation of the law”.
“Many people are killed and seriously injured by such unlawful behavior,” said Davis, author of Death in the streeta book from the 1990s on the “myth of road safety”.
Durham Police are investigating whether Cummings broke lockdown laws. It is not yet clear whether Cummings is also being investigated for the driving offense which he appears to have casually admitted during his highly unusual Downing Street press conference.