Have you noticed dusk starting to come earlier in the evening? Are you among those that don’t see as well when driving at night? Did you know that 9 of every 10 decisions you make behind the wheel are based on what you see?
It doesn’t matter if you’re 16 or 60. The ability to drive represents a sense of freedom for adults of all ages. But, as we get older, changes to the body and mind can make driving increasingly difficult. Night vision worsens with age due to a number of factors: pupil size, retinal changes, and cataracts.
Pupils shrink and don’t dilate as much in the dark as we age, reducing the amount of light entering the eye. Smaller pupils limit the amount of light that reaches the back of the eye called the retina. Because the retina of an 80-year-old receives far less light than the retina of a 20-year-old, it can seem like you are wearing dark sunglasses at night.
Rods and cones are contained in the retina. We depend on the cones for color vision and reading small print while the rods are critical for seeing in low light. As time goes on, we have fewer and fewer rods and they take longer to adjust to dark environments.
Cataracts are caused by a clouding of the lens in the front part of the eye. This causes the light entering your eye to be dimmed and blurred making it harder to see at night.
We can’t change the aging process so what steps can be taken to ensure safe nighttime driving?
- Avoid driving on dark rainy nights.
- Keep windshields clean inside and out.
- Help drivers see you in twilight by turning your headlights on before sunset and keeping them on for an hour after sunrise.
- Allow more time for your own journey, so you’re not driving under pressure.
- Avoid looking directly at approaching vehicles at night, even when their lights are dimmed.
- Have regular eye exams to check for such things as cataracts that can cause nighttime vision loss.
Avoid driving along at 50 mph, dropping to 40 mph when there’s oncoming traffic and then speeding up again. It makes it very confusing for drivers traveling behind you. It’s better to aim for a speed you can maintain such as 45 mph and sticking to it, even if there are times you could go faster.
Be proactive in taking care of your health and be safe on the road. Be honest with yourself. If a driving situation makes you uncomfortable, don’t do it. Many older drivers voluntarily begin to make changes in their driving practices. If fast-moving traffic bothers you, consider staying off freeways, highways, and find street routes instead. You may also decide to avoid driving in bad weather (rain, thunderstorms, snow, hail, ice). If you are going to a place that is unfamiliar to you, it is a good idea to plan your route before you leave so that you feel more confident and avoid getting lost.
If friends or relatives are concerned about your driving ability – it may be time to take a hard look at your safety and the safety of others.
About the author: John D. Bissell, owner of Tri-State Low Vision Services – a division of Bissell Eye Care, offers comprehensive eye examinations for the entire family, ocular disease detection and treatment, eye glasses, sun glasses, active wear, contact lenses, and low vision examinations for those with significant vision loss. He has undergone specialized training for treatment of low vision by the International Academy of Low Vision Specialists utilizing customized telescopic eyeglasses, prisms and telescopic implants for patients who qualify. The practice accepts most types of vision and health insurance plans.