Life On the Road With Visual Impairments

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Having good vision is vital to staying safe on the road. From spotting objects in the distance to identifying road hazards and reading signs, strong sight can help you avoid life-threatening errors.

The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) requires drivers to take a vision exam before obtaining a license. Some visual impairments may require you to wear corrective lenses, while more severe conditions can exclude you from driving entirely.

MoneyGeek has compiled an overview to cover the various requirements of each state, provide resources and tools for safe driving, and how having limited vision could affect your car insurance rates.


Behind the Wheel: Driving With Vision Impairments in the US

Many American adults have visual disabilities that can interfere with driving or even make the prospect of driving entirely impossible. For example, more than 3 million people in the U.S. have a vision problem and more than 1 million people are legally blind.


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An estimated 2% to 3% of drivers have vision acuity below the minimum legal standard.

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18 states have a minimum requirement of 20/40 vision in the better eye.

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85% of people with diagnosed eye disorders have some remaining sight.


Identifying Common Vision Impairments

Obtaining or renewing a driver’s license can be nerve-wracking for someone with a visual impairment. Whether genetic or brought on by age, certain conditions can prevent a person from passing the DMV vision test. Corrective lenses and other solutions can often improve most people’s vision enough to allow them to get on the road.

Visual Acuity

Vision acuity measures clarity of vision at a distance of 20 feet. 20/20 is normal vision acuity. A vision of 20/100 suggests someone needs to be as close as 20 feet from an object to see what a person with normal vision can see at 100 feet.

Some conditions can be corrected or improved with eyeglasses or contacts. A number of visual impairments can cause you to have more serious trouble. Below are several common types of impairments and their challenges.

  • Common Impairment
    Challenges
  • Low vision
    Low vision is a condition caused by eye disease in which visual acuity is 20/70 or poorer in the better-seeing eye and cannot be corrected with glasses or contacts.
  • Damaged central or peripheral view
    The eyes’ central view allows you to focus on an object in front of you, while the peripheral view allows you to see objects to the side. If either your central or peripheral view is damaged severely, you won’t be able to judge your surroundings well enough to operate a vehicle safely.
  • Hemianopia
    Hemianopia is a condition which causes someone to lose more than half their visual field. Most states do not allow those who have been diagnosed with Hemianopia to drive.
  • Poor depth perception
    Depth perception is the ability to see how close an object is. If your depth perception is poor, it will be hard to merge properly or establish when a stoplight or pedestrian is getting closer.
  • Poor night vision
    Poor night vision makes it difficult to see in low-light situations. Those with glaucoma tend to have particular trouble driving at night due to the glare of headlights and streetlamps.
  • Color blindness
    Color blindness prevents people from discerning between different colors. Since many traffic signals include colors such as amber, mustard yellow and green, driving if color blind can present difficulties.
  • Myopia
    Myopia, or nearsightedness, affects sight at a distance. When driving, this can make it difficult to read road signs and perceive oncoming cars.
  • Astigmatism
    Astigmatism affects the eyes’ ability to focus. If unaddressed, you may have blurry vision that can make it difficult to see clearly on the road.

Vision Solutions and Associated Costs

An illustration of a young woman holding her eyeglasses and walking to her blue truck.

Technological advancements have made it possible for those with visual impairments to live more seamlessly than ever before. From simple corrective lenses to smart electronic glasses, a host of solutions are opening doors to people with a range of visual disabilities. Many such options make it possible for those with visual impairments to be financially secure and qualify for a driver’s license.

  • Vision Solution
    Costs
  • Corrective lenses
    Corrective lenses include glasses and contact lenses. Glasses can cost anywhere between $20-$400 or more. Contacts usually range in price from about $50-$125 for a box of six pairs.
  • Night vision glasses
    Night vision glasses are typically non-prescription yellow-tinted glasses that help reduce glare while driving at night. Such glasses range from about $15-$100.
  • Bioptics
    Bioptics can help those with depth perception issues to see objects on the road quickly and accurately enough to slow down, stop or make other corrective driving decisions. Bioptics can cost anywhere from about $500-$3,000.
  • Smart glasses
    Assistive technologies can offer a magnified view of objects, partly due to high-powered cameras and facial/voice recognition capabilities. Costs run up to $10,000, depending on the device.
  • Vision training
    Some visual impairments can benefit from vision training rather than contacts or glasses. Vision training is performed by a doctor who may use lenses and prisms to train the eye. It may be covered by your insurance, depending on your provider. Costs vary, but can run as high as $500 for a visit.
  • Laser surgery
    Laser surgery adjusts the shape of your cornea to eliminate the need for glasses. Costs typically run between $1,000-$5,000 per eye.

3 Steps to Stay Safe on the Road

1

Be prepared

If you use glasses to correct your vision while driving, make sure to keep them in the car. If it’s easier for you to see at a specific time of day, plan your route beforehand to avoid being on the road at inconvenient hours. If you have trouble perceiving depth, avoid highways and busy streets.

2

Take caution

Check your blind spots regularly, and stick to your regular route as much as you can. If you notice yourself having difficulties seeing or making errors, pull over (when it’s safe to do so) and call someone to give you a ride.

3

Acknowledge your limits

Stay aware of your driving capabilities. Consult a physician or family member if there is any possibility that you are unable to safely operate a vehicle or have recently developed a vision condition.

Limited Vision and Car Insurance

An illustration of a pair of yellow eyeglasses pointed toward car insurance papers on a clipboard.

Insurance companies set prices depending on the level of risk. Someone with a limited range of vision poses a more significant risk than someone without. If you have a minor condition that can easily be corrected with glasses, your premiums will not be affected. People with a significant visual impairment, such as vision acuity of 20/200, will need to purchase extra coverage.

Insurance companies cannot arbitrarily decide to increase your premiums because you wear glasses for nearsightedness. If your visual impairment affects your driver’s license status, you’ll see action from your insurance company. Make sure to choose the right insurance company so your premiums stay low.

Disclosing Vision Issues

You do not technically need to disclose medical conditions to your insurer. But it’s always in your best interest to let your insurer know if you have any diagnosis or disability that will affect your driving. If your insurer finds out that an accident was because of an undiagnosed condition, it can legally deny your claim. You may also be charged with committing insurance fraud.

State Vision Driving Requirements

The DMV obligates all licensed drivers to drive safely. As a result, every U.S. state requires drivers to take a vision test before getting behind the wheel. It may also be best to make any necessary modifications to your vehicle prior to driving.

Types of Driver's Licenses

  • Unrestricted: An unrestricted license is for those of age who have applied for a driver’s license and passed their driver’s test. The license holder has earned the right to make any driving decision they see fit within the limits of the law.
  • Restricted: A restricted license limits driving in some way. For example, those with some visual impairments may not be able to drive at night. An underage driver may also be able to obtain a restricted license that allows them to drive to and from school on their own, but not other places.

What Is the Minimum Vision Required for Driving?

Vision requirements vary from state to state, with some more stringent than others. Your vision acuity will typically need to range from 20/40-20/70 in either one or both eyes.

Some states like Kansas, Iowa and Alabama also require a temporal visual field of at least 110 degrees horizontally in both eyes. Other states like California, Colorado and Delaware have no visual field requirements. Optometrists and those who administer eye tests at the DMV can determine whether you meet the minimum standard.

States
Vision Acuity Needed
Visual Field Needed

Alabama

20/60 (for the better-seeing eye)

110° horizontal field

Alaska

20/40 (each eye or both together)

Not required

Arizona

20/70 (both eyes) or 20/50 (one eye)

70° temporal & 35° nasal fields in one eye

Arkansas

20/70 (both eyes)

140° horizontal field or 105° horizontal field with one functional eye

California

20/40 (both eyes) or 20/40 and 20/70 (for one and the other eye)

Not required

Colorado

20/40 (one eye or both eyes)

Not required

Connecticut

20/40 (one eye or both eyes)

140º uninterrupted horizontal field. If blind in one eye, then the other eye must be 100º horizontal field.

Delaware

20/50 (at least one eye)

Not required

Florida

20/40 (either eye or both together)

130º uninterrupted horizontal field

Georgia

20/60 (at least one eye)

140º horizontal field

Hawaii

20/40 (for the better-seeing eye)

70º

Idaho

20/40 (at least one eye)

Not required

Illinois

20/70 (both eyes)

140º. If one eye has 70º temporally and 35º nasally fields, external mirrors on both sides of the vehicle are required.

Indiana

20/50 (each eye)

Not required

Iowa

20/70 (both eyes)

110º or 100º in one eye

Kansas

20/60 (at least one eye)

110º

Kentucky

20/60 (at least one eye)

35º field to the left and right side of fixation and 25º above and below fixation

Louisiana

20/70 (each eye)

Not required

Maine

20/100 (each eye)

110º

Maryland

20/70 (each eye or both eyes)

110º with 35º lateral to midline of each side

Massachusetts

20/70 (for the better-seeing eye)

120º

Michigan

20/70 (both eyes)

90º

Minnesota

20/70 (one or both eyes)

100º with both eyes or one

Mississippi

20/70 (both eyes)

170º or with one eye, 70º temporal and 35º nasal fields

Missouri

20/40 (both eyes)

55º or 85º using one eye

Montana

20/40 (each eye or both together)

Not required

Nebraska

20/60 (each eye or both together)

140º

Nevada

20/40 (both eyes)

Not required

New Hampshire

20/40 (both eyes) or 20/30 (one eye)

Not required

New Jersey

20/50 (at least one eye)

Not required

New Mexico

20/40 (for the better-seeing eye)

120º horizontal field with at least 30º nasally with one eye

New York

20/70 (either or both eyes)

140º horizontal

North Carolina

20/100 (both eyes) or 20/70 (if one eye is blind)

60º with one eye, or 30º for each side from the central point of fixation

North Dakota

20/80 (better-seeing eye if 20/100 in other eye)

105º

Ohio

With both eyes, vision must be better than 20/70

70º

Oklahoma

20/100 (better-seeing eye)

70º horizontal field

Oregon

20/70 (one or both eyes)

110º

Pennsylvania

20/100 (both eyes)

120º horizontal field

Rhode Island

20/40 (both eyes) or 20/40 (one eye)

115º horizontal field, or with one eye, 40º nasally and 75º temporally fields

South Carolina

20/120 (better-seeing eye)

120º horizontal and 80º vertical. With one eye, 70º temporally and 35º nasally

South Dakota

20/60 (both eyes)

Not required

Tennessee

20/40 (better-seeing eye)

150º

Texas

20/70 (both eyes or better-seeing eye)

Not required

Utah

20/40 (both eyes)

120º

Vermont

20/40 (one or both eyes)

60º temporal, or with one eye, 60º temporal and nasal

Virginia

20/40 (one or both eyes)

110º horizontal field

Washington

20/40 (both eyes)

110º horizontal field with both or one eye

West Virginia

20/60 (both eyes)

Not required

Wisconsin

20/100 (one eye)

20º field from center fixation in at least one eye

Wyoming

20/100 (both eyes)

120º horizontal field

What to Expect With a DMV Vision Test

The DMV vision test usually takes a maximum of ten minutes, and it’s nothing like an actual medical exam.

Expert Advice on Visual Solutions

  1. What are some of the more recent developments in the vision solution world?
  2. What about solutions for those with other types of impairments like peripheral vision loss?
  3. What auto industry advances have helped vision solutions?
  4. Do you see visual aids evolving over the next decade to better assist people while they drive?
Mark E. Wilkinson
Mark E. Wilkinson

Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology and Director Vision Rehabilitation Service at the University of Iowa

Khadija S. Shahid
Khadija S. Shahid

Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Iowa

Cynthia Owsley
Cynthia Owsley

Nathan E. Miles Endowed Chair in Ophthalmology and Professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham

Resources

There are a host of resources to help you understand how to drive safely and confidently despite having a visual impairment.

About the Author


expert-profile

Christopher Murray is a professional personal finance and sustainability writer who enjoys writing about everything from budgeting to unique investing options like SRI and cryptocurrency. He also focuses on how sustainability is the best savings tool around. He has a bachelor's degree in both English literature and gender studies. You can find his work on sites like MoneyGeek, Money Under 30 and ChooseFI.


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