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Vision Changes and Driving

Knowing what to expect and when to get eye exams helps mature drivers continue to drive safely.

Some aspects of aging are unavoidable, including changes in vision. However, knowing what to expect and when to get an eye examination can help older drivers continue to drive safely. 

AARP Driver Safety spoke with Mary Beth Rhomberg, O.D., associate director at the American Optometric Association (AOA), about how vision and eye care relates to safe driving.

Q: What are some vision changes that could affect driving ability as people age?

Dr. Mary Beth Rhomberg:  Bright sunlight or the headlights of oncoming traffic at night may impair vision. Some age-related vision changes that commonly affect older drivers include blurred vision; problems seeing in low light or at night; changes in color perception; difficulty seeing road signs, traffic and pedestrians

Q: How often should people 50+ get their eyes examined?

Rhomberg:  The AOA recommends that adults 61 and over receive comprehensive eye exams annually. For adults ages 18 to 60, an eye exam is recommended every two years for those without risk factors. If there is a risk for eye problems due to a personal or family history of eye disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, taking certain medications or contact lens use, more frequent exams may be recommended.

Q: Do you have any suggestions for night driving?

Rhomberg: Driving at night can be tricky. Headlights can cause more glare. In low light conditions, many visual clues such as contrast are diminished. It becomes more difficult to distinguish an object from its background and to judge distances. If you have difficulty seeing under low light conditions, minimize driving at dusk, dawn and at night, or confine driving to well-lit or familiar streets. Keep windshields as clean as possible, both inside and out.  Avoid distractions that may take attention away from the task of driving. Also, use extra caution at intersections.

In addition, consider taking a driving course designed for older adults. Programs such as the AARP Driver Safety course help older drivers learn about the physical changes that may affect their driving ability and how to compensate for them. Lastly, taking care of your health is the most important thing you can do to decrease the driving risks associated with aging. 

The American Optometric Association represents approximately 36,000 doctors of optometry, optometry students and paraoptometric assistants and technicians.

Also of interest: 10 tips for being a safer driver.

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