A road safety organisation has lambasted the existing eyesight test for drivers, saying it is “long out of date” and “not fit for purpose”.

At present, drivers simply have to be able to read a car number plate from a distance of at least 20 metres (65.6 ft) while wearing corrective lenses or glasses if necessary. Although this is assessed on the driving test, it is ‘self-certified’ from then on, with drivers held responsible for their ability to see.

However, GEM Motoring Assist is calling for a detailed check of every driver’s eyes as part of the photocard licence renewal process. That would effectively mean drivers have to have their eyes tested thoroughly every 10 years.

Senior patient checking vision with special eye equipment

“If you can’t see properly, you shouldn’t be driving,” said the organisation’s road safety officer, Neil Worth. “Poor eyesight is linked to more than 3,000 fatal and serious injury collisions every year. We are worried that there are just too many people driving whose eyesight has deteriorated to an unacceptable level.

“We believe it is entirely practical and sensible to require a test of visual acuity and field of view every 10 years, something that would fit in with licence renewal. Tests of this kind would not only make our roads safer, saving lives, disability and many millions of pounds through the reduction in the number of crashes, but they would also play a vital role valuable tool in the early diagnosis of many other costly medical conditions, irrespective of driving.”

Man listening music with headphones while driving car

Community optometrist Felicity Gill outlined the extent of the issue, saying drivers over the age of 60 should take advantage of free eye tests every two years.

“Day to day, I talk to both patients concerned about their own driving experiences and also to those worried about an elderly friend or family member who is driving,” she said. “Remember that driving is not just about clarity of central vision, so asking your loved one to read a number plate at 20.5 metres (67 feet) is not the best way of ensuring they are safe to continue driving.

“Eye examinations are free for over 60s on a two-yearly basis - or more frequently if recommended by an optometrist. They offer an opportunity for a professional to check that vision is clear enough for driving and that field of vision is sufficient using a visual fields machine. The tests offer the opportunity to identify – at an early stage – any eye conditions that might affect driving, and to address them if necessary.

Senior looks in instrument for checking eyes at ophthalmologist

“The most common ageing change in the eye is cataract (clouding of the lens inside the eye). An optometrist is best placed to detect these and to give advice on how to live with the early stages of cataracts. If they worsen, a patient can be referred to the local eye hospital for treatment.”

“Other common conditions include diabetes/diabetic eye disease, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. Any condition is better detected early, as intervention can often help delay or stop it from progressing."