Can I Drive If I Have Keratoconus?

A Life On The Road?

Yes you can.

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As long as you meet the minimum legal requirements wherever you live, and take some simple precautions that will help you. However latest research says that ‘Millions of motorists are driving blind’.

Five million motorists have eyesight so poor that they are a danger on the roads, UK research has found. They get behind the wheel even though they cannot see well enough to pass the basic eyesight test required of all drivers. A survey of motorists using the M25 around London found that one in six failed the test, in which they must be able to read a number plate 67 feet away –about five car lengths or one cricket pitch.

Don’t be one of these people!

Approximately 3,000 casualties occurred in the UK due to drivers having poor eyesight. These road accidents cost the UK taxpayer an estimated £33 million a year. If the police suspect you are driving with poor vision they can stop you and perform a road side eye test. This involves a visual acuity test, where the police officer will ask you to read a number plate from 20 metres away. If you are caught driving while your vision does not meet the standard or if you have been specifically advised that it is likely to fall below it (Road Traffic Act 1991) the maximum penalty for driving with defective sight is £1000, three penalty points or a discretionary disqualification.

In the Republic of Ireland you could be fined up to €1,500 and receive five penalty points or even be disqualified. Your vehicle can be impounded if you are disqualified.

A driving licence will not be returned until the driver can demonstrate that their eyesight meets the standard vision for driving.

Driving eyesight rules

You must wear glasses or contact lenses every time you drive if you need them to meet the ‘standards of vision for driving’. You must tell DVLA if you’ve got any problem with your eyesight that affects both of your eyes, or the remaining eye if you only have one eye.

This doesn’t include being short or long sighted or colour blind. You also don’t need to say if you’ve had surgery (i.e a corneal graft) to correct short sightedness and can meet the eyesight standards.

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UK Law- DVLA

“The law requires that a licence holder or applicant is considered as suffering a prescribed disability if unable to meet the eyesight requirements, i.e. to read in good daylight (with the aid of glasses or contact lenses if worn) a registration mark fixed to a motor vehicle and containing letters and figures 79 millimetres high and 50 millimetres wide (i.e. post 1.9.2001 font) at a distance of 20 metres, or at a distance of 20.5 metres where the characters are 79 millimetres high and 57 millimetres wide (i.e. pre 1.9.2001 font)”

If unable to meet this standard, the driver must not drive and the licence must be refused or revoked.

Also don’t forget that the UK police have new powers since 2013- new technology set up by the DVLA and police means a driving licence can be revoked in hours, whereas it used to take days. Police say motorists with bad eyesight are ‘just as dangerous as drink-drivers’. Police will stop drivers  to check they can drive safely. They also want to raise awareness about the new technology. A spokeman said that “Hopefully the threat of losing their driving licence there and then will help reduce the number of people who choose to shrug off problems with their eyesight, or their responsibility to wear appropriate eyewear before they get behind the wheel.”

According to the Department for Transport, only 10% of drivers over the age of 50 have regular eyesight tests. That is just not good enough. In fact it is highly dangerous.

GB law also requires that a licence be refused or revoked if DVLA considers a person has any other relevant disability which makes them a likely source of danger to the public when driving. DVLA would, in particular, consider anyone whose eyesight is below any EU minimum standard to be a source of danger when driving. Registration for sight impairment or severe sight impairment will normally be regarded as incompatible with holding a driving licence and should be notified. However, attention will be given to the standards indicated below in deciding on fitness to drive”

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/275982/aagv1.pdf

Note that keratoconus is not mentioned here https://www.gov.uk/health-conditions-and-driving  you do not have to declare it, but you must be able to drive meeting the legal requirements below with at least ONE eye.

You DO have to declare the following “Any visual disability which affects BOTH eyes (do not declare short/long sight or colour blindness).”

General conditions which may make driving illegal

Drivers may need to be considered for re-licensing by the DVLA if:

  • Visual acuity (± spectacles) is insufficient: it should be sufficient to read a 79.4 mm-high number plate at 20.5 metres.
  • Visual field is not full in monocular vision. Monocular vision is allowed only if the visual field is full.
  • Binocular field of vision is below 120°. Binocular field of vision must be ≥120°.
  • Diplopia is not mild and not correctable. Diplopia is not allowable unless mild and correctable, eg by an eye patch.

The practical driving test eyesight test- UK

At the start of your practical driving test you have an eyesight test. You’ll have to correctly read a number plate on a parked vehicle. If you can’t pass the eyesight test you’ll fail your driving test and the test won’t continue. DVLA will be told and your licence will be revoked.

When you reapply for your driving licence, DVLA will ask you to have an eyesight test with the Driving Standards Agency (DSA). This will be at a driving test centre. If you’re successful, you’ll still have to pass the DSA standard eyesight test at your next practical driving test.

Have a go at checking your own eyesight for DVLA UK standards here http://www.vutest.com/seedrive/

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USA law

The law is more flexible in the USA, which is not actually a good thing. There are strict federal vision standards for commercial licensing, but there are no such international standards, and there are no federal standards for unrestricted non commercial passenger vehicle drivers’ licenses in the United States. More details here: http://virtualmentor.ama-assn.org/2010/12/hlaw1-1012.html

I Got to Wear Shades

The Highway Code states that you should never wear sunglasses or tinted lenses for driving at night or when visibility is poor e.g.: if it is raining heavily, snowing or foggy.

This is what the AA Automobile Association (UK) says about driving in sunglasses http://www.theaa.com/public_affairs/reports/driving-in-sunglasses.html

Clarity of vision

There are two essential requirements for lenses to be used for driving – vision must remain clear, and sufficient light to let you see properly must get to your eyes. Sunglasses sold for general use can be too dark or unsuitable for driving. Sun lenses for driving fall into two main categories – ‘fixed’ and ‘variable’ tint.

Fixed tint lenses

These remain the same darkness regardless of light conditions. Fixed tint sunglasses are readily available and a fixed tint can be added to prescription, or corrective, glasses too. Polarised lenses normally have a fixed tint, but their inherent properties can significantly help to reduce glare. Their effect can be very evident on wet roads.

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Variable tint lenses

Generally known as ‘photochromic’ lenses, these have the advantage of changing their colour density when exposed to UV light. When the UV source fades, the lenses revert to their previously clear state.

While ideal for general wear, photochromic lenses are not suitable for driving because car windscreens filter out UV light which both slows and limits the reaction of the lenses – you could find yourself driving with lenses too dark or too light as a result.

Light transmission Category Use Limitations
 80%-100% (clear) Class 0 indoors/overcast day none
 43%-80% (light tint) Class 1 low sunlight not for night driving
 18%-43% (mediium tint) Class 2 medium sunlight not for night driving
 8%-18% (dark) Class 3 bright sunlight not for night driving
 3%-8% (very dark) Class 4 exceptionally bright sunlight not for day or night driving
  • Never wear sunglasses with a category four filter lenses for driving. These have an exceptionally dark tint and are unsuitable for driving. By law drivers’ eyewear must have a visible light transmission in excess of 8%. CAT 4 lenses only transmit between 38%.
  • Beware of pink or blue tinted lenses when driving as these can potentially distort colours – making vision poor. Yellow tinted lenses are not recommended for night driving. The tint is likely to be unperceivable anyway if the lens has a light transmission factor of 75% or more to meet night driving requirements.

Jennifer Birch, a senior lecturer in optometry at City University, London, agreed that certain shades of sunglasses could pose a problem. ‘Looking through a deep tint will change your colour vision,’ she said. ‘It will change the light / dark difference and may well affect the brightness of traffic lights. ‘It all depends on the intensity of the colour. Green shades can make a red traffic light appear black. ‘Similarly, greens look darker through a red filter. ‘If you’re driving, particularly at night-time, you really shouldn’t wear any tinted lenses.’

Polarised Sunglasses

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All sunglasses are designed to reduce brightness yet glare from the sun can still cause eyestrain, squinting or even temporary blindness. Polarised sunglasses block out horizontal glare and haze from flat surfaces such as roads, desktops and tables, and water. A special film is applied to the lenses to make them polarised. When light hits the lenses, the reflective light is filtered which eliminates the visible glare. They are certainly very useful to those of us with keratoconus., as glare and light sensitivity can be troublesome for us, and particularly for driving- as drivers will no longer be affected by sudden glare or low winter sun. All better quality non-prescription polarised sunglasses sold through optical stores are 100% UV absorbing

What are some advantages of polarized lenses?

A high quality pair of sunglasses will usually include polarised lenses. A polarised lens offers the following advantages over non-polarised lenses:

  • Improves visual comfort
  • Improves contrast and visual clarity
  • Reduces eyestrain
  • Allows for true perception of colours
  • Reduces reflections and eliminates glare

Pinhole glasses- too good to be true?

Yes.

Pinhole eyeglasses are another non traditional method of vision correction. These glasses have a frame with non-prescription opaque lenses with a pattern of small (approx. 1 mm) pinholes for the wearer to see through. The pinholes can produce a reasonably clear image on the retina by allowing only a small portion of light rays that are reflected from an object to pass through small points on the lens. This eliminates most of the light rays that would remain unfocused by an eye that is nearsighted, farsighted, or has astigmatism.

Eye doctors routinely use a pinhole lens to quickly gauge a patient’s best achievable vision. If a person’s vision improves when looking through a pinhole lens, their vision problem is probably due to an uncorrected refractive error. If the pinhole lens fails to improve their vision, an eye health problem, such as a cataract, may instead be the cause of their problem.

Some companies sell pinhole glasses, advertising them as miracle treatments or a “natural” alternative to conventional glasses. Unfortunately, though pinhole glasses can provides some improvement in functional vision, they cannot reverse nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism. And because they severely restrict peripheral vision, pinhole glasses should never be worn for driving.

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Final words from the AA:

  • Have a thorough eye examination every two years to find out if you need prescription lenses within your sunglasses
  • Discuss the options for sun and glare protection with your optician
  • Consider a specialist driving lens or tint
  • Be aware that your every day sunglasses might not be suitable for driving
  • Always keep a spare pair of driving sunglasses in the car
  • Remember, the onus is on you to have good vision – failing to have your vision corrected and protected from the sun could invalidate your insurance if you are involved in a road traffic accident.

When in doubt- don’t drive, don’t take any risks with your life or that of others. Get checked out to make sure that you do reach the minimum requirements.

 Sources: http://www.theaa.com/

https://www.gov.uk/driving-eyesight-rules

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-east-wales-21612397

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/driver-and-vehicle-licensing-agency

http://www.thinkaboutyoureyes.co.uk/articles/eyesight-and-driving/accidents-caused-by-poor-vision

 

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