More than one million drivers aged over 65 refuse to admit they are a danger behind the wheel, a survey has revealed.
The motorists risk a £1,000 fine and prosecution for failing to disclose serious medical conditions that would legally prohibit them from driving.
Almost three in ten older drivers have medical issues that must be disclosed to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), such as visual impairments, diabetes, heart conditions and epilepsy.
But just 49 per cent of these drivers have told the DVLA about their conditions, according to the survey for Direct Line. Most drivers say they do not believe their condition will affect their driving.
According to the road safety charity Brake, poor eyesight is thought to be the biggest health-related cause of crashes, with 2,900 casualties a year.
UK drivers aged over 70 must fill in a self-assessment form every three years to renew their licences. But critics say the form should be accompanied by a mandatory medical or driving test. Relatives of people killed by elderly drivers have backed calls from Brake for motorists over 65 to pass an eye test when they reapply for a licence.
Case study: Partially blind driver
Peter Conroy, 73, who is partially blind, was sentenced to two years in prison in 2014 after hitting two women on a pedestrian crossing, killing one and injuring the other.
Audrey Norden, 93, suffered a fractured pelvis and died a month later of thrombosis, incurred through lack of movement. Her daughter Margaret Elvidge, 63, was left with fractures to her leg and broken vertebrae.
Conroy was wearing his reading glasses instead of long-distance eyewear and was found by police to be incapable of reading a number plate further than four metres away.
In March the Department for Transport (DfT) called for the age limit for this self-assessment to be raised, saying the DVLA was snowed under by renewal applications from older drivers.
The DVLA, which maintains the database of registered drivers, says it had no plans to restrict licensing based on age and that there is no evidence that older drivers are more likely to cause accidents. A spokesman said: “Age in itself is not a barrier to safe driving. However, it’s essential that all drivers, regardless of age, tell us about a relevant medical condition which may affect their driving.”
Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, said that driving gives “huge social and economic benefits” to older people and called for a national network of mobility centres to give advice to older drivers.
She said: “In other countries where they have stricter medical rules to address this issue there is little evidence it has improved overall safety.
“Overall the safety record of older drivers is good. It doesn’t make sense to judge someone’s driving skills just by how old they are because ageing impacts on people in such different ways.”