February is Low Vision Awareness Month — bringing attention to the issues that people with vision impairment face. Vision impairment includes conditions like glaucoma, cataracts, refractive errors, age-related degeneration, and others. It’s those conditions that cannot be corrected with standard glasses, contacts, or surgery. According to the National Eye Institute, 4.2 million Americans over the age of 40 are visually impaired. In 2015, The Vision Council reported that 188.7 million Americans wear some form of vision correction. That’s a lot of drivers that need visual assistance. Check out this overview of the requirements, available assistance, and safety tips for driving with low vision.

Driving with Low Vision

Vision Requirements

Maryland’s Motor Vehicle Association has a set of vision requirements that every driver must meet before they are issued a new or renewed driver’s license. For noncommercial licenses that are unrestricted, drivers should have binocular vision (having two eyes), vision of at least 20/40 in each eye, and a 140-degree field of vision. Keep in mind that drivers must meet all of these requirements simultaneously. The Modified Vision Program allows drivers with low vision to get restricted licenses. Those drivers should have at least 20/70 vision in one or both eyes and a 110-degree field of vision.

Drivers with restricted licenses must adhere to certain regulations to be allowed to drive. Those with medical restrictions may have to use special equipment while operating a vehicle. Driving times and areas may also be limited depending on your specific restriction. Those with low vision are required to wear corrective lenses while they drive. They may also be limited to only driving during daylight hours or avoid expressways and highways.

All About Bioptics

Bioptics are visual assistants that make driving with low vision much safer. They are designed to provide magnification from two to six times. For drivers, these devices can make all the difference in being safe on the road. They attach right onto glasses either as a permanent fusion or mount. They’re primarily used for reading signs or making out a traffic signal off in the distance. For use, it just takes a quick nod of the head to look through the biopic telescope to focus in on what drivers need to see:

Bioptic driving is permitted in all 50 states but the requirements are unique for each. In Maryland, you must have 20/40 in each eye with or without corrective lenses, a 140-degree field of vision, and a restricted license.

Safety Tips

If you’re a driver with low vision, it’s important that you do your part to ensure the safety of all people on the road. Here are a list of tips you should follow:

  • Wear your corrective glasses or contact lenses at all times, especially if you have a restricted license.
  • When possible, avoid driving at night and during adverse weather conditions.
  • Drive primarily in the right lane.
  • Avoid heavy traffic times like rush hour.
  • Be sure not to speed and maintain a safe traveling distance.

Alternatives to Driving

The reality for some people with low vision is that they’ll have to seek alternatives to driving. Luckily, there are many options for maintaining the flexibility and freedom of getting wherever you want to go at any time of the day. As quickly as you can download an app, you can unlock access to any of the available rideshare services. You can also carpool with friends or family members. If you’re close enough to the light rail or bus system, those are also reliable options for safe transportation.