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Bioptic Driving: My Experience with Driving in Australia

This is originally written and shared to us by one of our amazing clients, Robert Eaves.

I have ocular albinism, nystagmus and astigmatism, all my life I have been told that I would never drive but even with this constantly drummed into me I never gave up, every now and then I would hit the internet and research in the hope that something new had come along that would make it possible. I remember reading sometime in the early 2000s about Bioptic’s being used in the USA and Europe for driving but living in the UK I could never find any real evidence of them being used on UK roads. When I did finally find an optometrist who could prescribe them it was made very clear to me that the DVLA would not allow them to be used for driving.

In 2011 I moved to Australia with my now wife and as I have in the past I began researching to see if there was any way I could drive, in 2016 I read an article featuring Dr Sharon Oberstein (PHD) at the University of NSW Optometry Clinic, Sharon is an expert in her field and has studied low vision and the use of Bioptic’s in the USA, in the article she talked about prescribing the bioptic and helping people to learn to drive with the lens. Having read the article I was quite excited and hopeful, without getting to carried away I contacted Sharon to discuss if she thought I would be a good candidate and thankfully she thought I would be, so I made an appointment and made the necessary arrangements to go over from Adelaide to Sydney.

Our first meeting went well and Sharon was happy I would be a perfect candidate for the bioptic and driving, she tested my eyes and found an acuity of 6/24 in both eyes unaided, 6/19 with my glasses and 6/6 in the left eye with a 4x bioptic. According to the assessing fitness to drive guide produced by Ausroads a licence will not be issued for acuity worse than 6/24 so unaided I am right on the edge but I should be fine to drive even without the bioptic. I wanted all the help I could get so went ahead with the bioptic anyway, having tried the sample lenses Sharon had at her clinic I felt they would make a significant difference and help make me a safer driver. I am a keen cyclist and cycle 20k’s to work every day, the bike is my only form of transport so I cycle a lot on all sorts of roads and bike paths, at this point I hadn’t driven a car other than in a car park with my dad as a young teen and moving cars out of a garage I used to work in so I had no idea how I would feel on the road in amongst other road users.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BcQsJ3yhIpU/

I collected my bioptic in November 2016 and wanted to get on the road ASAP, Sharon recommended I contact an Occupational Therapist in order to be assessed for driving, this would give me the greatest chance of obtaining a licence and they would be able to teach me the best way to drive with the lens. A quick google search found Williams OT and Brad Williams who is local to where I live, I arranged an appointment for Brad to come to my house and do a pre drive assessment and on road assessment, at this stage I had no licence or learners permit so Brad arranged with the DPTI for me to have a temporary permit for this assessment only. I was Brads first bioptic client so it was a bit of a learning curve for him too, the assessment went well and Brad was happy that I could progress through the learners and provisional licence scheme no problem, he wrote a report which was submitted along with Sharon’s to the DPTI when I applied for my learners. It wasn’t until February 2017 that I received a letter from the DPTI which stated I had been unsuccessful, this was due to the Assessing Fitness to Drive publication being reworded so that Bioptic’s were not allowed under any circumstances; I was of course disappointed and a little angry that they would make me go through all this, waste time and good money just to give me a blanket no. I contacted both Brad and Sharon who were very supportive.

In May 2017 I received an email from the manager at the DPTI that I had been corresponding with, it had come to their attention that the national guidelines were under review and the wording could be about to be changed to allow the use of Bioptic’s once again, this was exciting news which I shared with Sharon and Brad who remained hopeful for me.

In June we got word that the guidelines would likely be changed back to reflect use of a bioptic however this would not happen until October.

Bioptic Driving
Robert Eaves grinning happily as he drives with his Bioptic Lens

The wording was changed and in November of 2017 after sitting my theory test I was given my daytime driving only learner’s permit, very exciting times, I got straight into lessons and had a two 2 hour lessons with Brad, he said I would have no problem progressing through to the VORT and recommended another instructor Trevor who would be a little bit cheaper for me but was experienced in teaching people who needed a little extra help. I have had 5 lessons with Trevor and have done nearly all of my 75 hours driving with my wife as a supervising driver. After my 5th lesson with Trevor I felt ready for the VORT so I booked in with Bob Thornton who came recommended by Trevor, Bob is a very calm instructor, I have only met him at my test but I can tell he would be a great instructor. My VORT needed to be on a weekday so the DPTI could send an auditor to ride along and assess me at the same time and because I needed to take a day off work I booked for my HPT (Hazard Perception Test) on the same day. So HPT at 9 am went very well I passed with a couple of advisories, I then went home watched the F1 Italian GP and waited for my VORT at 1.30pm. My wife took me to the meeting point where I met with Bob and the auditor, we introduced ourselves, got in the car and I set off on my VORT, within 20 minutes we were back at the start point and I thought I’ve either done really well or it’s bad news, sadly it was a fail, when I’d turned out of one of the side streets onto the main road I had straddled two lanes while passing parked cars but I didn’t indicate or shoulder check beforehand, a silly error but that was that. Bob explained what I’d done wrong and then the auditor gave his opinion, the good news was the auditor was happy with my general drive and wouldn’t need to ride with me again, as far as he and the department were concerned my driving with a Bioptic is fine, I was still annoyed at myself but tried to focus on the positive. It would be two weeks before I could take another test.

After what has felt like a lifetime I finally took my test again yesterday and I’m very pleased to be able to say that I passed, it was still quite nerve-racking but I got through it and the only thing I really stuffed up was the reverse parallel park, I went in too fast and hit the curb. I can’t describe how happy and elated I felt afterwards it truly is a dream come true, I have never given up looking for a way to drive since I turned about 17 and I never imagined moving to Australia would enable me to realise this dream but it has and I’ll be forever thankful for the help and support I received along the way.

An update from Rob…

I never thought I’d use life changing and going to the shops in the same sentence but being able to go to shops like Bunnings and Aldi by myself truely is life changing, no longer do I have to rely on someone (usually the wife) to take me there or be carful not to buy so much that I can’t fit it in my bike bag.

Today I bought a 20kg bag of sand, that would’ve been tricky on a pushy! 😂👍

check out more about Bioptic driving at the Australian Facebook page here




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