Healthy eyes and safe driving go hand in hand. In fact, it’s estimated that over 90% of information taken in while driving is visual. Considering this, and considering that over 20% of current drivers have some form of vision issue significant enough to affect driving ability, ensuring your eyes are ready for the road has never been more important!
Factors affecting eye health and driving
While there are a number of eye health issues that can affect your driving performance, many of them have one thing in common: they tend to become more significant with age. Unfortunately, many of these age-related vision changes are unavoidable and happen gradually. One of the most effective ways to ensure that your vision is not impeding your ability to drive is to make sure you are aware of these subtle, but serious changes.
These age-related eye issues often include:
- Dry eyes
Your eyes’ ability to produce tears decreases with age. In fact, one of the most common causes of dry eyes is just being over the age of 50. While dry eyes by themselves are irritating and uncomfortable, they can become distracting and even dangerous when you are behind the wheel.
- Floaters and spots
Over time, the clear gel located between the eye’s lens and the retina slowly begins to separate, which results in the appearance of more spots or floaters (the small dark spots or squiggly lines that float through your field of vision).
While these floaters are a result of shadows being cast on your retina, they are typically not harmful and are more annoying than anything else. However, when it comes to driving, the appearance of new floaters can interfere with your ability to concentrate on the road.
- Peripheral vision
Peripheral vision, or your ability to see out of the corners of your eyes, decreases an average of 3% each decade. Reduced peripheral vision means a dramatic increase in blind spots and an increased inability to safely change lanes and difficulty merging into traffic.
- Pupil size
Your pupils change size as a way of controlling the amount of light entering the eye. The pupils naturally reduce in size with age. Smaller pupils mean that older adults require more light in order to see things clearly, which often makes it more difficult for older adults to drive at night.
These age-related eye issues are a typical part of the aging process and are not generally a direct result of a specific eye health issue. However, as you age, it’s also quite common to experience presbyopia, a condition that affects your vision and your ability to drive.
Presbyopia is the medical term for difficulty seeing things up close. A result of the lens of the eye incorrectly focusing light on the retina, presbyopia makes it increasingly difficult to read street signs, focus on the vehicle’s instrument panel, and to safely complete a number of other important driving functions.
In addition to the specific, age-related eye changes mentioned above, there are a number of other more serious eye conditions that can affect your ability to drive.
These more serious-age related eye issues include:
A cataract is a slow, progressive clouding of the lens inside the eye. As cataracts progress, it’s common to experience an increase in blurred vision, halos around lights, and an inability to see in low light or at night. As you might imagine, as symptoms of cataracts progress, it becomes more difficult to safely read road signs and judge stopping distances while driving.
- Macular degeneration
Macular degeneration is a chronic and progressive eye disease that occurs due to thinning of the macula (the part of the retina responsible for clear vision). As macular degeneration progresses, it’s common to experience visual distortions, decreased intensity of colors, and blurry spots or blind spots in your direct line of sight.
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that gradually damage the optic nerve, which is responsible for transmitting visual images from the eye to the brain. While glaucoma can occur at any age, it is much more common in adults over age 60. Common symptoms of glaucoma include tunnel vision, patchy vision in peripheral or central vision, blurred vision, and the appearance of halos around lights.
Driving and night vision
As noted above, as you age, your eyes require more light in order to see clearly. It’s estimated that by age 60, the human eye needs roughly three times more light to see as clearly as it did at age 20.
While this is a normal progression, it still makes driving in the evening or at night more challenging. To make sure you are taking all precautions and ensuring you are as safe as possible while driving at night, always make sure to:
- Wear prescription glasses or contact lenses
- Keep your windshield, windows, and headlights clean and free of streaks, smears, or other distractions
- Service and maintain your car’s headlights, always using the brightest bulbs available
How to test your driving vision
The only effective way to ensure your vision is safe and appropriate for driving is by having regular comprehensive eye exams at least every two years (and every year if you are over the age of 60).
During your annual eye exam, the doctor will test both your static and dynamic visual acuity to assess how clearly you are able to see objects that are stationary and objects that are in motion. During these appointments, it’s also important to inform your eye doctor of any vision changes you’ve noticed.
These regular eye exams, including dilation, are the most effective way to identify and treat potential eye issues before they become bigger, more disruptive issues.
Key warning signs for driving safety
Whether you’ve had your annual exam or not, if you notice any of the following, immediately contact your eye doctor and make an appointment:
- Increasingly blurred or fuzzy vision
- Halos or increased glares when facing oncoming headlights or other lights
- Blind spots, squiggles, or floaters in your peripheral vision or direct line of sight
- Increased difficulty reading street signs, focusing on your vehicle’s instrument panel, or seeing other objects while driving
Over 60% of all vehicle accidents are linked to a vision-related issue. Taking the time to consult with your eye care professional and to consistently follow their recommendations—especially when driving—are two of the most effective ways to ensure your eyes are road-ready and that you are taking the proper steps to keep you, your passengers, and your fellow drivers safe.