Problems with night vision are common among seniors. No driver wants to hear that they can no longer get behind the wheel due to age-related issues. Good eyesight is essential for safe driving, and research shows that older people experience diminished vision at night as part of the natural aging process.
Problems with Aging Eyes
As we age, our pupils decrease in size and don't dilate as dramatically in darker conditions, making it more difficult to see clearly at night. By about age 60, the human eye requires three times more light to see than at age 20. This normal decline in vision makes driving at dusk and in dark conditions more challenging for seniors. For some drivers, the effect could be as severe as wearing sunglasses while driving at night.
The cornea also clouds as the eye ages, scattering light and making older drivers sensitive to glare. This makes things like reflective road signs, the glare of streetlights on wet pavement, or headlights of oncoming vehicles harder to manage.
Some of the vision issues that older people experience as they age can't be corrected with contact lenses or glasses. These higher-order aberrations contribute to even more problems with glare when the pupil dilates. Whatever the case, senior drivers must take extra precautions when driving at night to accommodate their changing vision.
There Are More Senior Drivers on the Road than Ever
The number of senior drivers on the road in America is up 63% since 1999. While the mobility and independence that come with driving are a welcome addition to many senior's lives, there are also risks associated with driving at night for older people.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 7,700 adults over the age of 65 were killed in car crashes in 2017. Over 257,000 were treated in hospitals for injuries related to car crashes. For some older drivers, age-related physical changes, including a decrease in night vision, negatively affect driving ability.
Terri Robinette of Robinette Legal Group in West Virginia says it's not always clear which seniors may have problems with night driving as they age. "Many seniors tend to self-limit driving according to their capabilities, for instance, only driving during daylight hours or using amber night driving glasses to enhance vision after dark," she noted.
"Specific physical and cognitive abilities may decline with advancing age, such as changes in vision, hearing, and reaction time. However, there are significant individual differences in the onset and degree of functional impairments, so age alone does not provide sufficient information to judge driving ability."
Even though it's not right to rely on age as the sole indicator for whether or not someone is a sound driver, Robinette notes that these age-related impairments definitely create a challenge.
"Functional impairments can interfere with driving and may become particularly evident in stressful or challenging driving situations such as merging or changing lanes. Several studies have shown that higher levels of physical, cognitive, or visual impairment among older drivers are associated with increased risk of crash involvement."
How Senior Drivers Can Drive Safely at Night
Senior drivers should always be aware of the reach of their vehicle's headlights and adjust the vehicle's speed accordingly. Increasing the following distance in traffic will also help to compensate for the reduced reaction time that may come along with decreased night vision. When driving at night, drivers should keep their eyes moving and look to the sides of objects as much as possible.
Lauren Fix, The Car Coach®, offers this advice for senior drivers experiencing challenges with their vision during nighttime driving: "Having bright new headlights bulbs can help seniors have clearer vision at night. Wearing yellow-tinted glasses can help cut night glare. Be aware of driving during sunrise and sunset times as the glare and lighting can make it difficult to see the road and traffic clearly. Snow and ice can cause vision issues. Always remember to clean off all the snow on all windows, lights, and signals. Make sure you can see and be seen. If driving at night is still an issue, it's best not to take the risk and drive during daylight hours."
See an Eye Doctor About Declining Night Vision
Talk with an ophthalmologist who understands night vision issues about whether certain types of glare-resistant glasses may help improve night time vision.
Be sure to get regular checkups. Older people are at risk for eye problems like cataracts, which develop so slowly that the driver may not realize they have a problem until their eye doctor brings it to their attention.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma are other age-related vision issues requiring medical attention. An ophthalmologist can diagnose these conditions and may be able to offer solutions to keep a senior driver on the road safely.
Seniors Are Great Candidates for an Online Driving Course
Many drivers over the age of 60 haven't received any formal driver education in decades. Only 29 states require driver's license candidates to complete a comprehensive driver's education class. Some drivers never participated in a driving instruction course or class, even as teenagers.
A state-approved online driver improvement course offers the benefit of a self-paced curriculum that could help drivers qualify for reduced points, dismissed tickets, reduced fines, or an auto insurance discount.
Seniors could learn valuable defensive driving techniques that may help them avoid an accident, cope with the stress of driving at night, and stay on the road as long as possible.