Helpful Information for Our Patients about Driving
Many patients or their family members ask whether they are safe to continue driving as their vision diminishes. The incidence of motor vehicle accidents rises considerably after the age of 65. The law in the state of California, requires that an individual`s vision be 20/40 or better, with adequate peripheral vision, in at least one eye to qualify for an unrestricted driver`s license.
This means that a patient is legally able to apply for a driver`s license even if that individual is completely blind in one eye, as long as the other eye qualifies visually. Under certain circumstances an individual may be allowed to have a restricted driver`s license if their vision falls below this level, driving only during daylight hours and in familiar surroundings, but it requires that we make out a special form that can be obtained from the Department of Motor Vehicles. We will be happy to assist you in this effort if you qualify.
However, it is important to understand that safe driving requires more than just adequate vision. The ability to drive is dependent on at least three factors.
Unimpaired cognitive ability, meaning that an individual`s judgment and memory are not impaired, and
Adequate motor skills.
This means that an individual must have adequate reflexes, strength, and range of motion to function a motor vehicle. These factors can be affected by strokes, dementia, microinfarctions of the brain, seizure disorders, arthritis, as well as other medical conditions. When we examine you in our office, we are only testing your visual ability. The fact that you may have vision adequate to qualify for a driver`s license does not insure that you also qualify in these other two important categories. If you or your family members feel that you may not be safe driving despite the fact that you qualify visually, we would recommend that you reconsider whether you should be driving at all. We would encourage you to see a neurologist for testing of your cognitive ability and motor skills, which we are not able to evaluate in our practice.
If you do not pass the vision tests at the Department of Motor Vehicles, you may ask them to provide you with the form for us to fill out, if your vision meets the standards for a driver`s license. We may have to put significant restrictions on the form depending on your visual function. However, if your vision meets these standards this does not guarantee that you will be issued a license. Only the Department of Motor Vehicles has the authority to grant you a driver`s license. If they decide that you are not safe to drive, based on their testing, they still may not grant you a driver`s license despite the fact that your vision meets their standards.
We feel that it is important for your safety, and the safety of others, that you have all of your driving skills evaluated if you or your family members have any question about your ability in any of these three areas. Many times patients are not aware of the fact that these areas have been impaired without formal testing. Stroke victims are frequently unaware that part of their vision is missing without formal testing. It is not uncommon for a person to tell us "I have always been a good and safe driver, and there is no reason why I should not be one now", despite the fact that they are found to have a serious disability which would impair their driving ability.
If diminished vision is the only reason for your driving impairment, low vision aids may assist you in your ability to drive. You should contact the Braille Institute or a low vision specialist to be evaluated for these devices. We can recommend a low vision specialist to you if one is required.
It is also important for you to understand, that if we advise you not to drive due to your visual impairment, this will be documented in your medical record. If you choose to drive despite this warning, your medical record may be accessible to an attorney if you should become involved in a motor vehicle accident. This could be a significant liability in your attempt to defend yourself should you be found at fault in a motor vehicle accident.