When glasses or contact lenses fail to correct vision enough to allow people to drive, bioptic lenses attached to the glasses can prove useful, but they require the driver to avert attention to use the device by lowering the head to look out of the telescopes, which can cause an auto accident.

Technology Changes Definition of Who Sees Well Enough

Being able to see clearly is essential when behind the wheel, not only for your safety but for that of others on the road. However, thousands of Americans with vision that falls below the legal standard are driving because of technology, including some high-tech advances used by people with good vision.

Colorado’s Visually Impaired Can Still Drive

In 2016, the National Federation of the Blind noted that there were more than 7.6 million people ages 16-75 with a visual disability. Here in Colorado, the organization reported that more than 107,000 individuals are visually impaired.

What does visually impaired mean? According to the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), if you can read the smallest lines on an eye chart, your vision is in the range of 20/20 to 20/25, which means your eyes are seeing properly. People who can read only the large letters are in the 20/100-to-20/200 range which, upon a physician’s diagnosis, can be considered visually impaired or legally blind.

It used to be that someone lacking clear vision could not drive. That’s not necessarily the case today, due to two things: bioptic lens systems and GPS, which most of us are familiar with due to the advances of the smartphone. Over the past few decades, those with low vision have used bioptic lens systems: mini telescopes that attach to the top of glasses and allow the driver to see more, and sooner, than if that person were wearing glasses alone. For instance, someone wearing a 3x telescope will see his or her surroundings at 60 feet rather than 20 feet.

While this innovation has made it possible for those with low vision to drive, the safety of the bioptic system is a concern because of something a lot of us experience whether we have a visual impairment or not: multi-tasking. According to research by the University of Iowa, bioptic telescopes require the driver to avert attention to use the device by lowering the head to look out of the telescopes. This movement can distort awareness of the driver’s surroundings, and possibly lead to a deadly auto accident.

Despite what a lot of people think, multitasking safely is a myth when it comes to driving. However, that doesn’t mean those with low vision can’t drive, as there is now something available that most drivers now use regardless of their vision.

GPS has changed the world but also is a source of distracted driving auto accidents.

Global Positioning Satellites (GPS) are now commonplace; a lot of drivers depend on voice instructions via a cell phone to guide them to the desired location, and that is making it easier and safer for those with low vision to maintain some independence while eliminating the distraction of using bioptic lenses.

The National Safety Council graphically shows what happens in the brain when someone is trying to do more than one thing at a time. Brain scans show that activity in the part of the brain that processes movement decreases by a third when someone is on the phone. If doing this while driving, it’s considered a huge distraction, and it can be deadly. According to research, people talking on cell phones while driving are just as impaired as those driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08%. In 2017, federal officials noted that more than 3,000 people were killed due to distracted driving; here in Colorado, it’s been reported that distracted driving causes 40 auto accidents a day.

GPS is now being looked at as an alternative for some visually impaired drivers so they can get around safely without bioptic telescopes and rely more on voice commands. Potential users must be evaluated before it’s determined whether they can use GPS versus bioptic lenses, but this is certainly a doable alternative for those with low vision who can still safely drive with some added assistance.

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