Life On the Road With Visual Impairments
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.
An estimated 2% to 3% of drivers have vision acuity below the minimum legal standard.
18 states have a minimum requirement of 20/40 vision in the better eye.
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.
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 ImpairmentChallenges
- Low visionLow 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 viewThe 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.
- HemianopiaHemianopia 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 perceptionDepth 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 visionPoor 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 blindnessColor 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.
- MyopiaMyopia, or nearsightedness, affects sight at a distance. When driving, this can make it difficult to read road signs and perceive oncoming cars.
- AstigmatismAstigmatism 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
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 SolutionCosts
- Corrective lensesCorrective 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 glassesNight vision glasses are typically non-prescription yellow-tinted glasses that help reduce glare while driving at night. Such glasses range from about $15-$100.
- BiopticsBioptics 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 glassesAssistive 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 trainingSome 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 surgeryLaser 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
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.
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.
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
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.
Vision Acuity Needed
Visual Field Needed
20/60 (for the better-seeing eye)
110° horizontal field
20/40 (each eye or both together)
20/70 (both eyes) or 20/50 (one eye)
70° temporal & 35° nasal fields in one eye
20/70 (both eyes)
140° horizontal field or 105° horizontal field with one functional eye
20/40 (both eyes) or 20/40 and 20/70 (for one and the other eye)
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
- What are some of the more recent developments in the vision solution world?
- What about solutions for those with other types of impairments like peripheral vision loss?
- What auto industry advances have helped vision solutions?
- Do you see visual aids evolving over the next decade to better assist people while they drive?
Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology and Director Vision Rehabilitation Service at the University of Iowa
Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Iowa
Nathan E. Miles Endowed Chair in Ophthalmology and Professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham
There are a host of resources to help you understand how to drive safely and confidently despite having a visual impairment.
- Discovery Eye Foundation: This Discovery Foundation researches sight-threatening eye diseases and their treatments, improving the quality of life for patients and their families.
- National Eye Health Education Program (NEHEP): This program offers resources and information on various types of visual impairments.
- Eyeglass & Contact Lens Store Buying Guide: Corrective lenses are one of the most common ways to improve vision. This guide can help you pick the right options for your needs.
- Social Security Administration (SSA): This resource from the Social Security Administration explains how you can get support from the U.S. government if you are blind or have low vision.
About the Author
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- NVISION. "Vision Acuity: Testing (From Home) Definition & More." Accessed May 16, 2021.
- Prevent Blindness. "State Vision Screening and Standards for License to Drive." Accessed May 23, 2021.