Vision is the most important sense when driving, so it makes sense that vision challenges would increase your risk on the road. However, the onset of vision challenges — whether new or progressive — do not mean that you’ll lose your independence, mobility, and freedom.
In this article, we’ll touch on the types of vision challenges and how they can affect your ability to drive.
Then, we’ll touch on some steps that you can take to overcome vision challenges behind the wheel, and how working with a driving specialist can help you stay as mobile and independent as possible.
What Causes Vision Challenges?
There are multiple different causes of vision challenges. Some people are born with these issues, and others are more likely to manifest later in life.
The most common form of vision challenge is refractive errors, which occur when your eye is shaped incorrectly. This causes the light that passes through your eye’s lens to be out of focus by the time it reaches the retina, which can lead to nearsightedness or farsightedness, as well as visual field loss.
These challenges are often easily treated through corrective lenses, but in some cases, it’s possible to be so nearsighted that you can struggle to effectively see behind the wheel, especially at night.
As you age, it’s possible to experience a breakdown in the macula, the central portion of the retina. At first, this can make your central vision blurry, but over time can progress to blindness in the center of your field of vision.
The exact cause of macular degeneration is unknown, but it becomes increasingly likely in older individuals, smokers, and people with obesity.
Cataracts are caused by a breakdown of the eye’s lens tissue, which can obscure light, make it difficult to see colors (especially when driving with cataracts at night), and cause double vision in the affected eye.
Cataracts can usually be treated with a simple medical procedure.
Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among older adults and occurs when the optic nerve is damaged, which can result in partial or total vision loss.
The exact cause of glaucoma is still being studied, and as of now there is no way to reverse this condition, but detection in the early stages can allow for treatment that will slow or stop its progression, making safely driving with glaucoma a real possibility.
Color blindness is most often a hereditary condition that affects 8% of men and 1% of women, but it can also stem from other conditions like Parkinson’s disease, cataracts, or as a side effect of some medications.
The most common form of color blindness is being unable to distinguish red and green from each other, while others struggle to distinguish yellow and blue apart, and even fewer see only shades of gray.
In most cases, color blindness is not reversible but can be easily coped with, making driving while color-blind challenging, but not impossible.
Traumatic Brain Injuries or Strokes
This can lead to difficulty focusing on objects, tracking them as they move, or comprehending their relevance. In some cases, therapy can help regain a part of this lost function.
Other Injuries and Illnesses
There are many other factors that can impact vision, like direct trauma to the eye, infections, cancer, and diabetes to name a few. Some are more treatable than others, and these conditions can
These conditions can cause problems ranging from temporary vision disturbances to permanent blindness and some types of damage are more treatable than others.
How Can Vision Challenges Impact My Ability to Drive?
Vision is the most critical sense when driving, and any impact to it will also affect your ability to safely operate your vehicle.
Some vision problems, such as refractive errors, affect your visual acuity and make it hard to see objects on the road like cars, signs, traffic lights, or road hazards.
Vision problems that affect peripheral vision can make it difficult to notice vehicles approaching from the sides or coming up to pass you.
If you can only see out of one eye, or your eyes look in different directions, your depth perception can be affected and it can be hard to judge distances when stopping, merging, or parking.
Color blindness can affect your ability to read some signs, tell the color of traffic lights, or even see if the light is illuminated at all.
Other people suffer from conditions that cause contrast sensitivity, which means they have a hard time distinguishing an object from things in the background, which can make noticing hazards difficult. Driving at night or in high glare can be especially difficult for these people.
Finally, in situations where vision challenges are the result of problems with the brain, a person may be able to see clearly, but unable to process, understand, and appropriately react to what they are seeing, which can be dangerous on the road.
What Can I Do to Improve My Ability to Drive with Vision Challenges?
One of the best things that you can do if you have vision challenges is to have regular checkups with your optometrist, especially if you’re getting older.
In this way, you can stay on top of any changes in your vision, use corrective lenses as needed, and make sure that you’re always aware of where you stand as it pertains to driving.
Improving your overall health through exercise, a healthy diet, cutting back on smoking, and ensuring you’re getting enough vitamin A, C, and E can also make a difference.
And finally, if you or a loved one’s vision problems are the results of damage to the brain, you may benefit from doing training and rehab exercises, like tracking objects at different distances, or matching and vision brain games.
Who Determines if My Vision is Too Bad to Drive?
Anyone applying or reapplying for a driver’s license must pass a vision screening at the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The general standard for an unrestricted license is 20/40 vision with or without corrective lenses, though this varies by state.
In the state of Connecticut, a person must have a minimum corrected vision of 20/200 in their strongest eye, 100 degrees of uninterrupted binocular vision, and 70 degrees of uninterrupted monocular vision to be allowed to drive.
If your vision is better than this, but it does not meet the standard of 20/40 vision with corrective lenses, you may be restricted to only driving during daylight hours. Unfortunately, at this time, Connecticut does not license drivers who require the use of spectacle-mounted telescopic aids.
The state also recommends that physicians, law enforcement, or concerned loved ones submit an anonymous, protected form if they’re concerned about a loved one’s safety on the road. However, this is the last resort, and there are many other ways to stay on top of changing vision.
Staying On Top of Your Vision
The standard vision screening given by the DMV does not catch every form of vision problem, especially if your vision changes due to sickness or injury between renewals. For example, you may have fine acuity, but have problems with depth perception, tracking objects, or a visual field test.
If you or a loved one suspect you have vision problems, don’t wait until your next renewal. Instead, you can consult your optometrist and also schedule a meeting with a Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (CDRS) to determine if you can safely stay behind the wheel.
What Does Next Street Look For when Assessing Patients with Visual Challenges?
Vision screening is a standard part of every driving assessment, and our CDRSs are no different during their initial evaluation. Meeting you in the comfort of your own home, our experts will check your acuity, peripheral vision, depth perception, reactions, and ability to track objects.
They’ll also give you a physical and cognitive screening to make sure no other issues are affecting your ability to drive. Based on these findings, our CDRSs can prescribe a course of action, which may include follow up evaluation, driver training, or recommended work with an optometrist.
Possible Driving Outcomes
In some cases, safely returning to the road may only require some visual coping skills, an update to your prescription, or a simple medical procedure (like cataract surgery).
After this, you’ll be free to continue driving as normal.
Restricted Driving Privileges
If your vision is heavily light or color-dependent, it may be safer to stick to daytime driving or easier conditions.
In these cases, we’ll recommend you avoid night driving, driving in busy situations like on the freeway or in heavy traffic, or driving in heavy weather.
Adaptive Driving Devices
If your acuity, reactions, and perception are at a safe standard, but you have a hard time differentiating objects from the background or have limited peripheral vision, you may benefit from adaptive driving equipment.
Tinted or yellow glasses can help create more contrast, while additional or larger mirrors may help you expand your field of vision to see cars approaching from beside you.
Retirement from Driving
For some cases, especially with those dealing with full or partial blindness, your vision may make it unsafe to be out on the road.
In this case, we’ll help guide you through the process of revoking your license, and also help you develop an alternate transportation plan. These plans can include riding with friends and family members, using ride services or metro transit, or getting the help of specialty transit companies.
Take the Next Step
Here at Next Street, our goal is to help you maintain as much freedom, mobility, and independence as possible while also staying safe on the road.
If you or a loved one has vision challenges and you’d like to take the next step to ensure a confident, comfortable future behind the wheel, you can reach out to us for a free consultation.