Compulsory eye tests for drivers over 70 could be introduced

An eye test. Picture: Shutterstock
An eye test. Picture: Shutterstock
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Compulsory eye tests for drivers over 70 are being considered by the UK government to check they are safe to drive.

The move comes three years after tests were recommended by an expert group.

The call was repeated in the wake of the 97-year-old Duke of Edinburgh crashing into another car in January. Research will be launched into the impact of drivers’ poor vision on road safety and whether it could become an increasing problem.

Currently, drivers just have to complete a form to confirm they are still fit to drive and declare any medical condition when they reach 70, and every three years afterwards.

The Department for Transport’s (DfT) new action plan, The Road Safety Statement 2019 - A Lifetime of Road Safety, stated: “We are minded to consider that there may be a case for mandatory eyesight tests at 70 and at three-year intervals thereafter, to coincide with licence renewal.

“Further research is required to understand the extent to which vision issues pose a risk to road safety for drivers of all ages.

“The fitness required for driving is not just about good eyesight – manoeuvrability and reaction time are also essential. But good eyesight is important.

“We are launching a research programme and literature review to assess how far poor vision is or may itself become a road safety problem in the UK, and if there is a requirement for a new vision test to identify drivers who pose a collision risk.”

A DfT spokesman added: “We want to find out more about how eyesight testing could play a role in reducing the number of fatalities on our roads. A full public consultation would be held before any decision is made.”

The DfT said two people were killed and 198 were injured in 2017 in crashes where poor eyesight was a factor. There were 37 over the past five years.

A total of 4,600 motorists were banned from driving last year because of their eyesight.

David Davies, executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, said: “The UK government has, for the first time, proposed mandatory eyesight tests at 70 for those renewing their licence.

“Drivers of this age are not, statistically, a high risk driver group and this might be seen as unfair. On the other hand, eye tests are free at that age and most people of 70, presumably, would have an eye test periodically anyway.

“Eye tests can also be very useful in detecting wider health conditions, so any benefits would extend well beyond road safety.”

Scottish Government figures showed drivers aged over 70 have the lowest casualty rate compare to other age groups, despite an increasing number of older drivers on the roads.

A total of with 15 per cent of over-80s drove daily in 2016 compared to 12 per cent five years before.

Motoring group IAM RoadSmart said sight checks should start at 75, as recommended by the Older Drivers Task Force in 2016. Neil Greig, its Scotland-based policy and research director, said: “We welcome the commitment to explore new licensing arrangements for older drivers, as numbers are growing every year.

”The crash statistics suggest that most 70-year-olds are actually quite safe compared to other age groups, so we think 75 may be a better age to start considering the need to provide an eye test.

“It is important to get the balance right, as onerous regulation will make many drivers give up too early, and loss of mobility has been linked to mental and physical decline, which costs us all more in the long run.”

Michelle Supple, a director of Age Scotland, said: “If the UK government do pursue compulsory eye tests, this must be communicated clearly, outlining the purpose.”