Having good vision is a critical factor in our ability to drive safely. As we age, various changes to our vision happen over time, and many of these can affect our driving: the amount of light we need to see clearly, the narrowing of our field of view, and our ability to focus. CAA has compiled tools and information to help you to understand the vision changes that occur as you age.
Driving At Night
In several provinces, in order to have our licence renewed after the age of 80, we are required to have our eyes tested periodically. To link to your province’s regulations, click here. Note that even if a driver is able to see clearly in the eye doctor’s office and passes the eye exam, their ability to see in the dark may be diminished, so it’s important to take steps to ensure we can drive safely at night, as outlined in the following video.
Our pupils get smaller as we age and don’t dilate as much in the dark, making it harder to see. Our ability to see things such as people walking along the side of the road and reflective road signs and markings is affected. Smaller pupils also affect our ability to manage glare. Use the following tool to visualize how at age 60, we need three times as much light to see as we do at age 20.
Changing Focus & Field of View
As we age, vision changes often necessitate corrective lenses or eye surgery to keep our vision as sharp as possible.
If you have trouble with your vision and notice a change in what you can see while driving, it’s important to get tested by a professional to determine potential nearsightedness or farsightedness – or both.
Age also affects our field of view, or how far we can see clearly. The tool below illustrates how changes to our field of view affect our ability to see things that might be a safety risk on the road.
Other Common Vision Problems
Why it’s important to have annual vision checks:
- Our vision changes gradually as we age and can be hard to notice.
- Ensure our lens prescription is correct.
- Check for common eye conditions related to aging such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and cataracts.
- Medical intervention can help with these conditions and help us maintain good vision.
- Ensure our sight is good enough to continue driving.
Below are brief descriptions of common eye conditions as defined by Health Canada:
Glaucoma develops when the pressure within the eye starts to destroy the nerve fibres within the retina. If not treated early, glaucoma can cause vision loss and blindness. Because most people have no early symptoms, regular eye examinations are required to detect it. Treatment may include eye drops, medication, or surgery.
Cataracts are a gradual clouding of the natural lens of the eye, preventing light from reaching the retina. The clouding may prevent you from being able to read or drive unless the cataract is removed. This is a common condition and one of the most successful surgeries done in medicine today.
Macular degeneration occurs when the macula (the central part of the retina responsible for sharp focus) is damaged. This damage may be the result of many factors, including aging, and it causes permanent loss of central vision. Regular eye exams can detect the disease early on and laser treatments can slow down the central vision loss.
The Canadian Medical Association warns in its Driver’s Guide that contrast sensitivity, which measures the ability to see details at low contrast levels (or in dim lighting), may also affect individuals’ ability to drive:
Contrast sensitivity: Individuals with reduced contrast sensitivity may experience difficulty with driving, in spite of having adequate visual acuity. However, it is unclear at this time what level of reduction in contrast sensitivity represents an unacceptable risk for driving. Loss of contrast sensitivity can be associated with increased age, cataracts, refractive surgery and other ocular disorders.
Canadian Medical Association, CMA Driver’s Guide Determining Medical Fitness to Operate Motor Vehicles, 8th Ed, Section 12, Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association, 2012, modified and used with the permission of CMA; recognition to the Canadian Ophthalmological Society. CMA does not assume any responsibility for liability arising from any error in or omission from the use of any information contained in these sections. Permission to photocopy this section should be sought from Access Copyright, One Yonge St, Suite 800, Toronto, ON M5E 1E5, T: (416) 868-1620, E: firstname.lastname@example.org.