Can the Visually Impaired Learn to Drive Safely?

Can the Visually Impaired Learn to Drive Safely?

It can be hard for visually impaired people to retain their independence when their vision problems make it unsafe for them to drive. They must rely on family, friends, and neighbors to take them wherever they need to go. That can be a huge inconvenience to both the visually impaired person and the people who have to drive them around. If you have a family member or friend who has experienced visual impairment, you are very familiar with this issue.

Can the Visually Impaired Learn to Drive Safely?The good news is that for people with vision impairments that are bad enough to prevent them from driving even with corrective lenses, there is a small piece of technology called bioptic telescopes that can give them their independence back and allow them to drive. Some people have a condition called hemianopia, which is partial blindness in the vision field. Researchers are conducting studies  with driving simulators that may result in allowing them to drive again in the future.

Who knows, with new technological advancements coming out every day, just about everyone may be able to safely operate a vehicle one day!

Bioptic Telescopes

Bioptic telescopes are special eyeglasses that have small telescopes mounted on them toward the top of the lenses. They enlarge images a lot like the way binoculars do. However, their function isn’t necessarily to make things larger for the visually impaired. Rather, it allows them to see from further away.

What makes driving so unsafe for these visually impaired people is the fact that they have to get extremely close to a sign or traffic signal before they can see it, which leaves them almost no time to react and slow down or make a turn. Bioptic telescopes allow them to see the signs and traffic signals much sooner. This gives them plenty of time to react. If you think back to driver’s ed, you’ll remember that a lot of driving safety depends on quick reaction time.

Now, if you’re thinking that looking through telescopes all the time while driving would be exhausting, you’d be right. Thankfully, the visually impaired drivers do not have to look through the telescopes continuously while they drive. They can tilt their heads down to look through the telescopes to see what signs or traffic signals are in the distance. This makes the tool much more useful and comfortable.

Training

Bioptic telescopes necessitate an adjustment period. So, the visually impaired using them must go through training to be able to use them properly. They start off using the telescopes while walking around. They then wear them while riding as a passenger to help acclimate their eyes to the tools. Once they have gotten used to using them that way, they are then able to start driving with them. Imagine the freedom that comes with being able to drive again!

This invention has given many people with vision impairments the ability to become independent again. Unfortunately, they come with a price tag of about $2,000 at the lower price point. Because of this price point, there are a lot of visually impaired who could benefit from them but can’t  afford to spend that amount of money out of pocket. Most insurance companies don’t offer coverage for these devices yet, either.

Driving Simulators for Hemianopia

People diagnosed with hemianopia have gone blind in half of their visual field in one or both of their eyes. Various trauma, tumors, or strokes cause this debilitating issue. One of the worst parts about hemianopia is that it leaves these individuals unable to drive.

Laws in some parts of the United States prohibit people with hemianopia to drive at all. This goes for some other countries as well. However, in other countries, people with hemianopia are allowed to drive if they pass a special driving test. Some researchers hope that in time, most people with hemianopia will be able to drive assisted by special devices and extensive training. Scientists at Massachusetts Eye and Ear/Schepens Eye Research Institute are working on developing this technology.

The Problem With Intersections

People with hemianopia need to compensate the most when they approach intersections.  They have to turn their heads away from their vision loss side to detect other cars. People with normal vision can detect these obstacles while looking straight ahead. If the driver with hemianopia doesn’t turn their head enough to see the entire intersection, they pose a huge safety risk. This would affect both the visually impaired driver as well as to other people on the road.

Clearly,  people with hemianopia would need to scan the intersection properly in order to compensate for their loss of field vision. So, researchers used a driving simulator to study the actions of people with hemianopia. They compared the results to people with normal vision. Unfortunately, the results were not that good. The people with hemianopia either didn’t look far enough toward the side that their vision loss was on or they didn’t look at all.

The researchers hope that if people with hemianopia receive training to teach them how to properly compensate for their loss of field vision while driving, they may be able to safely drive eventually.

Eyesight Improvement

While natural vitamin supplements will not help people with hemianopia restore their vision, some people with common vision problems might be able to improve their eyesight through the use of eye vitamins like our Ocu-Plus Formula. If your vision is poor due to common vision problems like nearsightedness, farsightedness, presbyopia, or astigmatism, eye vitamins can actually strengthen your eyes and help prevent eye diseases.

Many people who have had to wear corrective lenses their whole lives have actually improved their vision so much with eye vitamins that they no longer need corrective lenses to see clearly. That is a huge step in the fight against vision loss, as is the latest technology mentioned here. So, even if you can’t afford fancy telescopes or don’t want to undergo risky procedures like LASIK, you can still work on strengthening your eyes naturally and safely.

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About the Author

Avatar for Tyler Sorensen

Tyler Sorensen is the President and CEO of Rebuild Your Vision. Formerly, Tyler studied Aeronautics (just like his brother) with the dream of becoming an airline pilot, however, after 9/11 his career path changed. After graduating top of his class with a Bachelor of Science in Informational Technologies and Administrative Management, he joined Rebuild Your Vision in 2002. With the guidance of many eye care professionals, including Behavioral Optometrists, Optometrists (O.D.), and Ophthalmologists (Eye M.D.), Tyler has spent nearly two decades studying the inner workings of the eye and conducting research.

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