Cataracts and driving: a guide

According to the most recent reports, around 25.6 million Britons own a car, while it’s thought that up to 74% of the UK population have a full driving licence. With that in mind, it’s clear that getting around on four wheels is of great importance to us Brits. But what happens when your vision starts to affect your ability to drive? Join us as we take a look at the relationship between cataracts and driving.

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Driving with cataracts – is it safe?

How safe you are as a driver with cataracts depends on a few factors. The type of cataract you’re suffering from, along with how advanced the cataract is can both play a part in whether you remain a safe driver. Cataracts develop slowly, so it’s possible to drive safely for many years. However, drivers struggling to see due to developed, late-stage cataracts should refrain from driving and seek surgery.

How cataracts affect vision while driving

As you get older, you may start to experience the signs of cataracts. These include the lens of your eye gradually becoming less transparent. When the lens in your eye becomes cloudy, light struggles to pass directly through it causing blurry vision.

This deterioration can naturally affect your vision and cause driving to become difficult, particularly for older adults. An inability or delay in being able to spot hazards on the road (along with reduced reaction times) can seriously impair your ability to drive.

Driving at night with cataracts

Drivers suffering from cataracts may notice their vision affected by glare. This can be from sunlight during the day, but is most problematic while driving at night. This is because the lights of oncoming vehicles can prove dazzling, making driving potentially unsafe.

When should you stop driving with cataracts?

You can continue to drive if you have a cataract without notifying the driving authorities. However, this is provided that you meet the standards of vision for driving as set out by the DVSA. These include the ability to read a number plate from 20 metres and having a suitable field of vision.

Over time, cataracts may worsen and cloud your vision further. If you are struggling to see from behind the wheel due to cataract deterioration, you should stop driving and consider surgery to improve your quality of vision.

The visual standards for driving

The standards of vision for driving are as follows. You must:

Failure to meet any of these standards could result in your licence being revoked.

Tests you can take

You can perform some of the standards of vision tests on your own. Others can be done with the help of an optician. They can carry out a visual field test which measures two things:

Before your practical driving test, you will also be asked to perform an eyesight test. If you cannot correctly read the number plate on a nearby parked vehicle, you will automatically fail the test and your licence will be revoked.

When to have cataract surgery and treatment

If diagnosed cataracts are causing you vision problems that cannot be corrected by wearing glasses or contacts, you should consider cataract surgery. Leaving cataracts untreated can result in surgery becoming riskier and, eventually, blindness.

It is worth considering eye surgery in the early stages of a cataract’s development. This is to take advantage of the different cataract lens types on offer, specifically intraocular lenses. These can make you less dependent or completely eradicate the need for glasses or contact lenses.

If you are worried or have questions about eye care, you should consult an eye doctor.

The benefits of cataract surgery for driving

While cataract surgery may not improve your driving skills, it will reduce the danger that you pose to others. Whether it’s NHS or private cataract surgery, the procedure will improve your vision, so you should expect to see less glare from the lights of oncoming traffic. This will make driving at night easier and safer for you and other road users.

Driving after cataract surgery

In the hours following cataract surgery, you won’t be able to drive. You should therefore organise for a friend to drive or taxi to take you to and from the hospital.

Most patients can get back behind the wheel of your car 24 hours after cataract surgery. You should ensure that you meet the standards of vision for driving. A driver rehabilitation specialist (DRS) can offer tests on how well you drive, as well as helping you improve your driving skills post-surgery.

How long after cataract surgery can you drive?

After cataract surgery, patients can normally drive after 24 hours as long as you meet the standards of vision for driving.

Driving insurance after cataract surgery

Following cataract surgery, your insurance should still cover you to drive provided you meet the standards of vision for driving.

Cataracts and driving FAQs

Not yet found what you’re looking for? Our cataracts and driving FAQs might be able to help.

By the letter of the law, yes. If you’re struggling to see, then you should consider whether you’re safe to drive. If a cataract develops in both eyes, you need to notify the DVSA and refrain from driving until your vision improves.

Yes, provided you meet the standards of vision for driving. If your cataracts deteriorate to the point you struggle to see road signs and pedestrians, you should refrain from driving and seek treatment.

No. It isn’t necessary to declare cataracts to the DVLA unless your condition means you don’t meet the standards of vision for driving.

Yes. Cataract surgery will reduce the glare from oncoming vehicles, making it easier for you to drive at night.