In recent tests, Specsavers Opticians carried out 3,000 basic sight tests and 700 drivers failed, while separate checks carried out by Egg Motor Insurance on 250 drivers found one in six could not read a numberplate from 20.5 metres away – the distance specified in the Highway Code.
The surveys suggest up to five million drivers are taking to the road with suspect vision.
In a bid to tackle this growing menace on the roads, the RAC Foundation is to write to the Department for Transport calling on the Government to launch a high-profile publicity campaign on the dangers of driving with poor eyesight. And it is urging fleet executives to take the lead in making sure company car drivers can see properly when they are behind the wheel.
RAC Foundation executive director Edmund King said: 'It is staggering that so many motorists are willing to get behind the wheel when their eyesight does not meet even the basic legal standards.
'It is vital drivers have their eyes tested at least every two years regardless of whether they wear spectacles and have an eye examination immediately if they have the slightest doubt about their sight.'
King added: 'Employers have also got an important part to play by ensuring that their fleet drivers get routine check-ups. There are also insurance companies who offer discounts to drivers who have regular tests. Sadly many drivers never seem to bother to have eye tests, and assume their sight is as accurate as when they passed their driving test.'
The RAC Foundation warns that many people assume that gaining their driving licence means they have no need to visit an optician during their lifetime of driving. However, it warns that it is an offence to drive with uncorrected vision and the penalty for failing to declare a medical condition which could mean they are unfit to drive could be as much as £1,000.