Your life and eyes 5 min read

One in five drivers needs corrective lenses: Do you?

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If you are unable to see road signs, pedestrians or other drivers, you can create a hazard for every one you share the road with, which can lead to accidents. One in five drivers can’t see well enough to drive safely. Can you?

23% of drivers have uncorrected vision

Good visual health, and proper correction when needed, is fundamental for driving safely. According to a 2012 study by the Vision Impact Institute on the social and economic impact of poor vision, an estimated 23% of drivers have uncorrected vision problems that affect their driving ability. These problems are often due to undiagnosed eye problems, failure to wear glasses and more.

Major risks of impaired vision on the road

Man driving with glasses in his hands

Driving with poor vision is perceived to carry a higher risk to road safety than driving after having two beers or when using a mobile phone (not that we’re recommending either!), according to a study conducted by FESVIAL, Essilor and Universitat de València. 

The study, which took place in Spain, found that two out of five drivers use vision correction in the form of glasses, contacts or both. Out of the population surveyed, 15.6% said they have never had their vision checked, and 26.1% said they have not had their vision checked regularly (in the last year).

In other regions, such as the United Kingdom, licenses have been revoked because of impaired vision. Poor eyesight was the reason for nearly 200 crashes — including three fatal crashes in 2018.

Impaired vision can prevent you from seeing road hazards such as roaming animals, debris and potholes, and it can endanger other people on the road. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that nearly half of all traffic-related fatalities involve the road’s most vulnerable users: cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians. Many of these accidents happen because drivers can’t see clearly enough to recognise road hazards and react accordingly.

Dangers of poor eyesight

The following vision issues can negatively impact your ability to drive:

  • Drowsiness and tired eyes
  • Incorrect prescription or driving without glasses or contacts
  • Distracted driving, including reaching for your sunglasses or adjusting the radio
  • Other eye conditions or impairment (such as glaucoma or cataracts)
  • Obstruction of vision — such as smudged lenses or dirty windows and mirrors

An estimated 11.2% of fatal crashes were caused by drivers experiencing drowsiness, distracted driving or obscured vision while driving in 2017 in the U.S., as reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 

Are you experiencing these or any other vision problems? There may be an easy fix for some, such as cleaning your glasses or paying closer attention to the road. For problems such as blurry vision and tired eyes, you should contact your local optician.

Road hazards affect vision

Glare from sun coming through rainy windscreen

In addition to poor vision, road hazards can affect safe driving, making it that much more critical that you ensure you are alert, and your vision is clear while you are behind the wheel.

Some visual obstructions you may encounter on the road include:

  • Glare from other vehicles and headlights
  • Glare when exiting tunnels or driving out from beneath flyovers
  • Blinding direct sunlight — especially during sunrise or sunset
  • Weather hazards such as rain, wind, ice and extreme temperatures
  • Roaming animals
  • Construction

Make sure your vehicle is roadworthy (check your tyres’ wear and pressure, clean your windscreen, etc.), check the weather forecast, and check-in with yourself (do you feel physically and mentally ready and able to drive?), every time you get behind the wheel.

Legal vision requirements for drivers

To obtain a legal driver’s license, you must pass a vision test, whether you need corrective lenses or not. Vision requirements may vary from region to region.

For example, the United Kingdom requires drivers to be able to read a car number plate from 20 metres away. Some states in the U.S. have detailed requirements. Still, many of them generally require drivers to have 20/40 visual acuity or better in both eyes, with or without vision correction to obtain a driver’s license. 

If you are travelling abroad and plan to drive while you are away, you will need to review the driving requirements and traffic laws of the particular country you are visiting. You may also need to obtain an international driving permit to drive there.

How to improve your vision

WHO estimates that at least 2.2 billion people have a vision impairment, and at least 1 billion people have not addressed their impairment yet. 

Vision has a direct impact on your driving ability, so you must maintain your visual health as a driver. If you have trouble seeing while you drive, experience blurriness or eye irritation, or if you are due for an annual eye exam, it’s time to call your optician.

You should have a regular eye exam at least once every two years, or more often depending on your needs. Eye exams are especially crucial for older people since vision changes more with age.

Your optician will be able to determine the causes of any vision issues and determine whether your prescription is adequate for driving a car (or any other vehicles). Some people who can see clearly during the day may need glasses while they drive at night. 

The best way to prevent accidents due to compromised vision is by taking responsibility for your eyesight. When it comes to road safety and your vision, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

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