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Age and Night Vision Driving

Decreased night vision can be a serious traffic hazard, especially among older motorists who drive after dark.

Unfortunately, the grading of vision screening for driver’s license renewals in our license departments means that large numbers of drivers in this age group may not be seeing their optometrist or ophthalmologist frequently enough to ensure their vision is adequate for safe driving.

A bigger problem is that age-related eye problems, such as cataracts, can develop so slowly that older drivers may be unaware that their vision is declining.

Road Traffic Accidents and Older Drivers

Research has shown that although younger drivers are more likely to cause serious motor vehicle accidents resulting in death, older car drivers are a public health issue, because of age-related declines in vision, cognition and motor function. This makes them more susceptible to car crashes in complex situations that require good visual perception, attention and rapid response.

A typical car driver makes about 20 decisions every kilometre and has less than half a second to react fast enough to avoid an accident. Age affects the 3 essential steps involved in that reaction process: sensing, deciding and acting.

Also, traffic deaths are 3-times more likely to occur at night than during the day.

Why is Ageing and Night Driving a Problem?

As we age, our eyes usually begin to fail long before we notice it.

  • Pupils shrink and don’t dilate as much in the dark as we age. This reduces the amount of light entering the eye. The retina receives far less light. This can make older drivers function as though they are wearing sunglasses a night.
  • The cornea and lens in the eye become less clear with age, causing light to scatter inside the eye, which increases glare. This makes it harder to see objects on the roads at night.
  • An older person may test well in the optometrist’s office but still struggle to focus on the road at night, where lighting is poor and more complex vision tasks are required.

  • Older eyes have a higher risk of developing eye diseases like age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and cataracts.

These eyesight problems, together or in isolation, may cause a gradual decline in vision and so a driver doesn’t realize that he has become visually impaired.

Despite these many reasons for concern, many older individuals ignore the need for regular eye exams. Taking responsibility for your eyes by having regular eye examinations is the best way to ensure you have the visual abilities needed for safe driving as you get older.

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