Vision declines in older drivers

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The number of older motorists has reached a history record since people over 50 are still likely to maintain active lifestyles. On the other hand, poor night vision in older individuals is a serious traffic hazard.

Lax vision screening requirements for driver’s license renewals in some states is also bringing more dangerous factors to drivers in 50s and older, who are more likely to develop chronic vision problems such as cataracts. The Vision Council released a report in 2006 that nine states require no vision screening for license renewal, and some states require screenings every eight or more years. In fact, regular and dilated eye exams are critical for detecting vision risks in older motorists.

Currently, aging baby boomers continue to be on roadways at night much more frequently than their parents. Age-related declines in vision, cognition and motor function have been the major causes of accidents in older motorists. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration noted that drivers above 65 accounted for 15% of total accident deaths in 2005. The American Association of Retired Persons reports a substantial rise in crashes per mile driven in drivers over age 70. According to statistics from U.S. Centers for Disease Control, motor vehicle crashes have been the leading cause of injury in old people between 65 and 75.

Many eye parts are involved in night vision declines in older people. Older motorists have difficulty in focusing objects at night, because of age-caused pupil shrinkage and abnormal dilation. Natural aging also makes cornea and lens less clear, bringing glare and light scattering as well as contrast sensitivity reduction. Older drivers still have decreased ability to see stationary and moving objects including cars, pedestrians, reflective road signs and markings. Glare resistant ability is also affected.

Some older drivers have vision problems such as presbyopia since a young age, and these aberrations progress with age. Various eye diseases in older people can cause significant vision declines. Age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and cataracts occur at a high percentage among people above 40. Refractive surgeries such as LASIK may cause additional glare from oncoming headlight. Some light beams, auxiliary lights and fog lights from oncoming cars may adversely put you at a higher risk of glare.