But 24-year-old Sandeep Kumar chooses to stay behind the wheel for nearly 14 hours a day to earn a living and provide for his family.
Sandeep, a truck driver from Ghaziabad in northern India, juggles gruelling schedules and travels vast distances to earn about Rs14,000 (£150) a month. Like many of his colleagues, Sandeep is the sole breadwinner in his family. Most of the drivers send their earnings home, yet only see their families occasionally: sometimes a few times a month; sometimes once a year.
The work is not only exhausting, it’s dangerous: accidents happen with alarming frequency.
Astonishingly, poor eyesight could be putting almost half of India’s truck drivers – and other road users – at further risk, but their transient lifestyle, lack of free time and limited income mean having their eyes checked is just not possible.
Sandeep has only been driving for four years, but already knows the difficulties poor vision can cause. “During the night, when I focus on the lights I get a headache and my eyes get watery, so I drive with my head turned. It is risky, but what can I do? I get scared,” he says.
Yet the idea of not being able to drive scares Sandeep more. “I am worried about my future as I don’t have any cash, so I have to work to get food,” he explains. “I am the only member in my family earning – I have my parents and two little brothers, as well as my wife and two-and-a-half-year-old son.”
The overworked truck drivers are particularly vulnerable to safety issues, as their job comes with many risks: prolonged sitting and driving, tight running schedules, reduced rest breaks, traffic congestion, and the sedentary nature of the job, all of which can lead to physical, psychological and behavioural problems.
Sightsavers in India realised that truck drivers were struggling to get their eyes checked, so decided to take eye care services directly to them.
The National Truckers Eye Health Programme operates in 29 sites around India’s ‘golden quadrilateral’, which covers the main long-distance haulage routes.
All the camps are in areas where drivers stop as part of their usual route to rest or unload cargo. At the pop-up camps, local partner eye care teams can set up their kiosks and begin screening in a matter of minutes. Drivers’ details are digitally uploaded using tablets and they are given an ID card featuring a QR code, which they can take to any site along their route and pick up their treatment where they left off.
Among those who have benefited from the programme is 66-year-old Chandrika Ram, who has been driving dumper truckers for the past 40 years. At the moment he transports fish from Paradip Port on the east coast of India, and his family of nine rely on his salary, which is equivalent to £93 (€103) a month.
After steadily losing his vision in one eye, Chandrika attended a Sightsavers eye camp where he was diagnosed with cataracts and referred for surgery to restore his vision. Chandrika can now see clearly through both eyes and is able to safely continue working without worrying about his eyesight.
If the truckers are diagnosed with refractive errors and need spectacles, they can opt to collect custom-made glasses from a location of their choice.