Close up of hands on steering wheel.
Making Adjustments

Driving While Visually Impaired

Jun 24, 2022

Driving While Visually Impaired

The relinquishment of car keys, or a driver’s license, to a visual impairment, is a life-changing moment we do our best to avoid. It is not uncommon for people with impaired vision to drive only to destinations to which they “know the way by heart,” or with passengers who can read them the signs.

Many states do provide some exemptions to the unforgiving 20/40 visual acuity requirement, which may come as a surprise to those in fear of having their license revoked. The qualification often requires a detailed examination by an ophthalmologist or optometrist, driving training, a specialized road test, and annual recertification. Some drivers can obtain a restricted license with the use of telescopic lenses that succeed in correcting vision to the 20/40 baseline. This adaptation requires a vision exam to prescribe the bioptic telescope, undergoing training, and taking a road test before receiving the specialized license.

The restriction, most frequently exercised, with and without the authorization of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), is driving during daylight hours only. Although not yet condoned for visually impaired drivers, assisted driving features can also help, such as lane departure warnings, blind-spot alerts, pedestrian and obstacle detectors, and autonomous emergency braking. The promise of actual self-driving vehicles remains illusive. Should it ever come to fruition, many of these issues would be solved.

View of road from driver’s seat of car.
View of road from driver’s seat of car.

It would seem that many people would fail to meet the 20/40 acuity required to drive. The fact is, corrective lenses are the dominant qualifier. A person can also have severely impaired vision in one eye and passable vision in the other, which meets the requirement.

If you want to continue driving, please do it responsibly and with good judgment. Denial is a defense mechanism, but in the case of driving with low vision, it can also be as deadly as a loaded gun. Here are the questions to ask yourself and guidelines to consider.

• Are you putting yourself and others at risk?

• Do you feel safe and confident behind the wheel?

• Do you avoid driving at night or in poor visibility?

• Do you stick to familiar routes?

• Have you discussed vision aids for driving with your ophthalmologist or optometrists? 

• Had any close calls or near misses lately?

• Are you aware of your state’s requirements and exemptions for drivers with vision impairment?

• Do you have an alternative and independent mode of transportation available, like Uber or GoGo Grandparent?

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About the Author: Dorrie Rush

Dorrie Rush is the Chief Content Officer and Visual Accessibility Expert at Ophthalmic Edge Patients (OE Patients), an online resource, presented by the Association for Macular Diseases, providing practical information and empowering advice for living a full and successful life with vision loss.

She is the former Director of the Grunwald Technology Center and Information Resource Service at Lighthouse International 2001 to 2016. Dorrie is known to have an eccentric view, which is particularly useful in compensating for her central vision loss from Stargardt Disease.



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