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Older Drivers: Is Your Vision Fit for Driving?

By Charles Hopkins Published 04/22/2006 | Self Improvement
Driving a car is a very complex task. You need good perceptual and judgment skills and you must pay constant attention to detail from your car and the world around you. As 90% of the information you need for safe driving comes through your eyes, any drop in vision due to age may compromise your safety. Although vehicle accidents usually have multiple causes, one of the more common causes is YOU, the driver, failing to see something important. Lose visual concentration at the wrong time, even for a second, and you may miss seeing a potential danger that could kill you and your passengers.

Despite nationwide driving fatality numbers decreasing, drivers aged 70 and over are more frequently involved in driving accidents (particularly fatalities) through decreased driving performance. Decreasing vision through ageing and common eye diseases is often a major contributing factor to such cases. With a rapidly ageing population and 19.8 million drivers over 70 already on U.S. roads, declining driver competence is fast becoming an urgent public health problem. One frightening statistic from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that older driver involvement in fatal crashes will increase by 155% by the year 2030.

With increasing age many physical and mental changes will affect your ability to drive safely. Some conditions clearly make driving dangerous. If Dementia or Alzheimer's impairs your thinking or serious cardiovascular disease makes you pass out from time to time, you need to immediately stop driving for your own and others' safety. Other less obvious problems may be just as dangerous at times. You may be temporarily unfit to drive if your prescription medicine makes you drowsy or if you are diabetic and your blood sugar drops too low. Impaired vision is another less obvious problem for older drivers. You may think you can see well, particularly in familiar driving locations, but as vision can deteriorate gradually over time, you may be totally unaware that your vision is not safe to drive!

Driving authorities impose a number of vision standards for safe driving. They may differ slightly from place to place but there are some common requirements. You need good visual acuity. This is the ability to see far enough ahead of you to recognize and avoid potentially dangerous situations. You need good peripheral (side) vision. This is the ability to see out to the sides when changing lanes or merging. It helps you to detect pedestrians and other roadside hazards. Night vision is also important. Poor night vision due to problems like cataract can affect may elderly drivers. They may require a conditional driving license that only allows daytime driving.

Although eye disease such as Cataracts, Glaucoma and Macular Degeneration are relatively common in seniors, they are not the most frequent vision problem affecting drivers. The most common visual impairment in older drivers is uncorrected refractive error. Many drivers are either unaware they need eyeglasses to drive or they fail to keep their prescriptions up to date because they have not noticed the gradual loss of vision.

It is important to make sure eye diseases are monitored regularly to ensure vision remains adequate to drive. Cataract surgery may restore driving vision when cloudy lenses affect your vision but some eye diseases progress to the point where you need to stop driving altogether. As many older drivers equate their driving license with physical independence, losing this ability can be a terrible event which can force major lifestyle changes.

In this fast paced mobile world, driving is almost a necessity for many people. It can be devastating when age and deteriorating vision limit this ability. Although you can't turn back the clock, regular eye examinations and good communication with your Eye care practitioner can help you keep driving as long as possible. Check your eyes regularly and make sure your eyes stay safe to drive!