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Visual Impairments and Driving: What is Considered Safe?

Driving for many represents independence, convenience and freedom. Developing a visual impairment or having one that intensifies may impact one’s ability to drive on the roads; however, it is not always the be-all-and-end-all. For some, driving with a visual impairment is perfectly safe given certain conditions and requirements. For those wishing to drive or continue driving with a vision impairment, it is important to always make this decision after a consultation with your eye doctor and checking with your state’s road regulations. Today, Novus helps clarify some of the key considerations you should make when driving with a visual impairment.

How Visual Impairments Affect Driving

Visual impairments are not all the same; people can have issues with sight to varying degrees which can affect their driving ability. You may be surprised to read the following statistics on driving and vision:

The Statistics

  • 1 in 5 Australian drivers can’t see road signs
  • According to the 2020 Vision Index report, 19% of drivers aged 35 to 54, struggle to see road signs during the day.
  • This figure jumps to 25% admitting to struggling to see signs at night.
  • Overall, approximately 47% of the population report some type of visual disorder.

Ultimately, visual impairments and disorders are more common than they appear. While everyone, even those with standard vision, are capable of missing a sign here and there – it happens to the best of us – there comes a point where vision problems get in the way of driving in a safe manner. So, how do you know if your eyesight is getting in the way of your driving?

To be legally allowed to drive in Australia, your eyesight must meet a certain standard for driving. Check if you meet the following criteria.

To drive you must be able to:

  • Read road signs
  • See pedestrians crossing the road
  • Have enough peripheral vision to detect dangers around you
  • If necessary, wear glasses or contact lenses that assist with your vision
  • Have a visual acuity of 6/12 or better (using both eyes) – this is acceptable whether your vision is aided or unaided.
  • For heavy vehicle drivers – have a visual acuity of your best eye being at least 6/9 and your worst eye at least 6/18.

To check your vision acuity, you should go to your GP. During this particular test, you read letters of varying sizes off a chart. This is, however, just a baseline reading. To further investigate any vision troubles, you may be required to see an optometrist or ophthalmologist. For reference, normal vision according to an acuity test is 6/6.

The criteria for driving with visual impairments may differ from state to state. Always check with your relevant department to ensure you are following the correct legislation.

Do you know the top causes of car accidents in Australia? Check out our recent article on road crash causes. We’ll give you a clue: driving with an eye condition isn’t one of them!

Eyesight Requirements to Attain a Driver’s Licence

When it is time to renew your licence, you may be required to pass an eyesight test in your application, and generally you’ll need a test when applying for a licence for the first time (learner licence or when converting from an overseas licence). So, if you’re about to apply for a licence (or renew) from your local authority, ensure you have the appropriate glasses or contacts with you that you will be expected to wear while driving. Further, ensure that you bring along any medical clearance if you expect you may need this.

In Australia,  in order to receive a driver’s licence, it is a requirement in most states that drivers pass an eyesight test by reading an eye chart. Drivers must also disclose if they have vision problems that could affect their driving ability.  In NSW, Victoria, SA and WA, any eyesight impairment or condition must be recorded and listed on your licence.

Penalties may apply if you’re caught without the necessary eyewear, as indicated on your licence. If a condition is listed on your licence and it stipulates you must drive with glasses or contacts, it is a legal offence to drive without these. As such, you could be fined or may face demerit points.

Do You Notice Any of These Changes to Your Vision?

While you may be required to pass another eye test when renewing your licence, many states rely on drivers recognising the signs of deteriorating eyesight or eye disorders. There is a great incentive to keep on top of any impairments and disorders as managing your condition attentively can mark the difference between a smooth and difficult insurance claim if you’re ever involved in an accident. Here are some signs to look out for when driving which could mean you need to make some adjustments.

  • Blurred distance vision when driving home after a long day in the office can occur as a result of dry or fatigued eyes due to prolonged use. If this consistently occurs, you may be required to use glasses when driving home to assist with eye fatigue. Further, certain eye drops may improve your condition.
  • Do the lights look fuzzy? This might be an astigmatism (a common vision problem caused by errors in the shape of cornea). With this condition, the surface of the eye has an irregular curve, resulting in changes in the way light passes your retina. This can cause blurry, fuzzy or distorted vision.
  • Poor night vision – including lacking the ability to see in low light and recover from oncoming lights.
  • Poor visual acuity – the sharpness of your vision decreasing.
  • Decrease in peripheral vision – your ability to see objects out of the corner of your eye
  • Poor depth perception – knowing how far away objects are.

If these are oncoming symptoms or they’ve begun to intensify, ensure you book an urgent appointment with your GP or eye specialist.

Eyes fine but windscreen blurry? It could be a sign that your windscreen is old and in need of replacement. Book in a service with Novus to receive a replacement that is guaranteed to last the lifetime of your vehicle.

Common Eye Related Conditions

Eye conditions, including eye disorders, can occur for a number of reasons. People may develop visual impairment due to illness, eye disease, or genetics. Here is a list of some of the most common eye conditions that affect driving.

  • Cataracts: associating with the clouding of the eye’s lens.
  • Glaucoma: a condition where the optic nerve slowly degenerates. This often contains no symptoms except for gradual vision loss.
  • Macular degeneration: a condition of the retina where the centre of one’s vision deteriorates. This often begins with blurry vision.
  • Diabetes: This autoimmune disease increases a person’s risk of developing eye diseases (such as cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.
  • Ocular Migraines: This is not an eye condition, however can affect one’s vision when occurring, which is concerning for many who experience this phenomenon. People who experience ocular migraines see auras, flashing lights, zigzagging lines, or stars. Some will even experience loss of vision.

Managing Eye Related Conditions

The best way to manage your eye condition is to see your eye specialist about corrective procedures and treatments, if this is an option. If caught early, many eye conditions can be revered or managed very easily. Here are some other tips with managing certain eye conditions:

What do I do if I experience an ocular migraine while driving?

  • Do not panic: Visual disturbances can be frightening, but pass and are often short.
  • If you are driving it is highly recommended you pull over and wait for the symptoms to go away.
  • It may be worth seeking alternative methods to getting home (e.g. catching a taxi or rideshare).

Can I drive if I have monocular vision?

  • Drivers with only one eye will need a vision test certificate issued by their optometrist or ophthalmologist to register for a licence.
  • As their visual fields are reduced with no stereoscopic vision, a conditional licence may be considered for private vehicles, but generally people with this condition are unable to drive commercial vehicles.

What if I am colourblind?

  • Currently, there are no restrictions on driving if you are colourblind.
  • Your optometrist should, however, inform you of the difficulties you may have in determining what traffic signals mean.

How often should you get an eye test?

If you have low vision and need to wear glasses or contacts (maybe as a conditional requirement of your licence), it is important that you stay on top of your prescription and regularly test your eyes to check it’s still relevant. How regularly do you need to do this?

According to specialists, if you are under 40, it is recommended to have your eyes tested every two to three years. People from 40–65 years, should see their optometrist every two years. For people over 65, however, it is recommended that they get their eyesight tested annually.

Besides getting your recommended eye tests, the most important thing that drivers can do – and this includes all drivers – is maintain a strong sense of responsibility and willingness to use sound judgment when it comes to your health and safety. Driving with an impairment can put you and other drivers in danger, so always exercise caution. To learn more road safety tips, have a browse through Novus’ blog which is regularly updated with helpful tips and industry knowledge.

Novus are leading providers of auto glass services. If you’re dealing with an old or damaged windscreen, Novus can service your car efficiently and affordably, with long-lasting results. Contact Novus to book your service today or to learn more about their products and services.

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