Driving when you’re in your 40’s and beyond isn’t like getting behind the wheel as a teenager. Aging has a tremendous effect on crucial safe driving requirements, like strong vision.
Vision decline may happen gradually, and can produce dangerous consequences on the road. In 2017, the number of car crashes on roads increased for the fifth year in a row, to more than 127,000 crashes. More than 900 of those were fatal crashes, resulting in 1,000 fatalities, according to the Department of Transportation.
The population is also aging at a dramatic rate. The U.S. Census Bureau reports the percentage of people ages 65 and older is expected to double between now and 2050. By 2030, one in five American residents will be at retirement age.
It’s important to be aware of vision changes that occur due to aging, so you can take steps to safely navigate the road amid those changes. Here are some aging eyes driving issues to be aware of, with tips for driving safely as you age, and signs that indicate your vision may be too poor for safe driving.
Vision Changes That Affect Driving
There are many vision changes that are normal and unavoidable as we age. Be aware of these so you can take steps to enhance your vision for driving.
- Decreased pupil size: Aging causes the pupil size to reduce, which means eyes are less responsive to changes in light. Older adults need more ambient light to see clearly. Reduced pupil size also can cause a glare effect in bright sunlight. Glare sensitivity can cause temporary loss of clear vision, and impact reaction time when driving.
- Vitreous detachment: The eye’s vitreous body is a clear gel between the retina and the lens. Aging causes vitreous detachment, which can lead to flashes of light, floaters, or spots. While the effects are mostly harmless on foot, they can impact your line of vision behind the wheel.
- Presbyopia: Presbyopia affects adults in their 40’s and older. This is a term for difficulty seeing things up close. Safe driving requires the ability to read signs and see what’s in front of you to avoid hitting things, park correctly, and complete other essential driving functions.
- Low light vision difficulties: As people enter their 60’s, the ability to see clearly in low lighting decreases. This can make driving at sunset and later more difficult.
- Myopia: Also known as nearsightedness, myopia can take the form of myopic creep, which means the condition worsens with age. Myopia can make it difficult to read highway signs, or see vehicles and hazards in the distance.
- Loss of peripheral vision: Every decade of life, peripheral vision decreases up to three degrees. This means, when you reach your 70’s, you may have lost peripheral vision by around 20 degrees. Decreased peripheral vision can impact your ability to see the vehicles around you and change lanes safely, especially when there are obstacles in blind spots.
- Dry eyes: We produce fewer tears as we age, which can lead to dry eyes. Dry eyes can result in burning or stinging sensations. If these come on while you’re driving, it can be distracting and dangerous.
It’s important to get regular eye exams at least once a year, so your doctor can identify changes in your vision. Your eye doctor will be able to provide solutions that help improve your vision, so you can stay safe while driving.
Senior Driving Safety Tips
To stay safe while driving on the road, regular eye examinations and adherence to the doctor’s orders are essential. If you’re prescribed glasses or contacts, make sure to wear them any time you drive, for your safety and the safety of those around you. It’s also required by law, in some instances.
Additionally, here are some tips for driving safely amid aging vision.
- Nighttime driving: Road fatalities occur three times as often at night compared to during the day, according to Popular Mechanics. You can avoid nighttime driving, or ask your eye doctor if there are eyeglass options to help you see the road better at night. You can also dim your dashboard lights to improve nighttime visibility.
- Glasses: If you’ve experienced glare while driving, let your eye doctor know. You could get glasses with anti-reflective coating or with lenses that have wavefront diagnostic technology to cut down on glare.
- Navigation: Try to plan out trips ahead of time, and drive on familiar roads, especially at night.
You should also keep your car clean, especially your side mirrors. Dirty mirrors make it difficult to drive safely, even for people with perfect vision.
Red Flags for Medically Impaired Driving
Sometimes, certain eye conditions can make driving dangerous. If you have any of these vision problems, you could be a danger on the road for yourself, other motorists and pedestrians.
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD): AMD can cause vision loss and result in blurred vision, or the inability to see certain elements in your view. You could miss a critical piece of visual information while driving if you have AMD.
- Cataracts: A cataract is a cloudy lens that can blur vision. Not being able to see clearly means you might misread a road sign, or misjudge distance on the road. You may be able to treat cataracts with cataract surgery.
- Glaucoma: Glaucoma is linked to a buildup of pressure inside the eye, and can begin to develop with no obvious symptoms. It can lead to permanent vision loss or blindness, making it impossible to drive safely.
- Macular puckers and holes: Macular puckers and holes may cause a loss of central vision, blurred vision or distorted vision. This condition impairs your ability to see clearly while driving.
Depending on the condition, you may be experiencing the early stages. You still may be able to drive safely with treatment. Consult with your eye doctor about driving recommendations.
If you don’t feel confident and in control when you drive, it’s safer to use public transportation or ride with a friend or ride-share company.
Getting behind the wheel presents risks to any driver. When you have vision issues, it makes driving even more dangerous for everyone on the road.
When Was the Last Time You Had Your Vision Checked?
Safe driving requires regular visits with your eye doctor. You may be developing an eye issue with no obvious symptoms. Catching eye issues early in the eye doctor’s office can help you treat it, and remain a safe driver.
- Always get and use the proper eye treatment recommended to you when driving.
- Visit your eye doctor before you need to renew your license or take a vision test for your license.
- Avoid nighttime driving. Use vision tools that can help you be a safer driver at all times.
- If you ever feel uncomfortable driving because of your vision, consult with your doctor before driving again.
If it’s time for an eye check-up so you can stay safe on the road, visit the location nearest you. You can also call the office to schedule an appointment.