A new onset of vision challenges can cause you to be legitimately concerned about your ability to stay on the road. You may fear that you will lose your independence, or your ability to continue working, taking care of family, or engaging in social activities. While vision impairment can make driving more dangerous, in many cases there are steps that can be taken to overcome your vision challenges and keep you behind the wheel.
The most common form of vision challenges is refractive errors. When the eye is not shaped correctly, it can cause the light that passes through the lens to be out of focus for the retina. This can lead to either nearsightedness or farsightedness. If uncorrected, objects can appear blurry at certain distances. This is often simply treated with corrective lenses, which change the way light passes into the eye so that objects appear in focus.
As people age, some will experience a breakdown in the macula, the central portion of the retina. They may first notice that things they look at seem a bit blurry. Over time, this disorder progresses and can lead to blindness in the center of their field of vision. The exact cause of macular degeneration is unknown, but there are several risk factors, such as age, smoking, and obesity that seem to contribute to its development. There is no known treatment for this disorder.
Some people will notice their vision getting blurrier and taking a yellow hue as they age. This can happen because the tissue inside their eye’s lens starts to break down and form clumps, which can make the pupil appear cloudy and obscure light as it enters the eye. Along with blurry vision, a person with cataracts may have double vision in the affected eye.
The leading cause of blindness among senior citizens is glaucoma. It occurs when the optic nerve is damaged, and while this damage has been correlated with increased eye pressure, doctors still do not fully understand how the two relate. It is an irreversible condition, but early detection can allow for treatment that will slow and even halt its progress.
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, which makes it hard for you to see objects in front of you. This can make seeing cars, signs, traffic lights or road hazards difficult. Vision problems that affect peripheral vision can make it difficult to notice vehicles approaching from the sides or coming up to pass you.
For those who can only see out of one eye, or whose eyes may look in different directions, depth perception can be affected. This can make it hard to judge distances when stopping, merging, or parking.
One of the best things that you can do is to have regular checkups with your optometrist. Make sure they are not only testing your acuity but also checking the pressure of your eye for glaucoma. If you notice any sudden changes in your vision between scheduled visits, set up an appointment as soon as possible. If you have corrective lenses, be sure to use them when driving, and follow advice from your eye doctor about how to treat any conditions you have.
It is also important to eat a healthy diet, as your eyes need many nutrients, such as vitamins A, E, and C to function properly. Exercising, wearing sunglasses, and not smoking can also contribute to good eye health.
If you or a loved one’s vision problems are the result of damage to the brain, you may benefit from doing activities that involve following objects with your eyes, looking at objects at different distances, or activities that require you to distinguish objects visually, such as matching games. These can help train the brain to perform the tasks it will need to do to process visual stimuli while driving.
Anyone applying or reapplying for a driver’s license must past a vision screening at the DMV. The general standard for an unrestricted license is 20/40 vision with or without corrective lenses. 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 standard vision screening given by the DMV does not catch every form of vision problem. You may be able to meet the minimum requirements for acuity and peripheral vision, but still have problems with depth perception, focusing, or tracking objects. If you suspect you have vision problems, you should consult your optometrist and also schedule a meeting with our Certified Driver Rehab Specialist (CDRS) to determine if you can safely stay behind the wheel.
If you are concerned that a loved one’s vision is impacting their driving, and they are unwilling to be evaluated, the state does allow you, a physician, or a police officer to submit a form that can result in the revocation of their license until such a time as they are medically cleared to return to drive. The forms can be found at https://www.ct.gov/dmv/cwp/view.asp?a=818&q=245036 and may be submitted anonymously. The law states that you cannot be punished for submitting these forms in good faith.
Vision screening is a standard part of every assessment that we do. Our CDRS can meet with you in the comfort of your own home in order to evaluate you. They will check your acuity, peripheral vision, depth perception, and ability to track objects. Your ability to react and make decisions based on visual stimuli will be assessed. The CRDS will also give you a physical and cognitive screening to make sure no other issues are affecting your ability to drive.
Based on our findings, we will prescribe a course of action for you and may recommend you see an optometrist, a behavioral optometrist (in cases stemming from traumatic brain injuries) or for a behind-the-wheel evaluation at a later date.