Understanding Eyesight Requirements for Safe Driving – Guest Post

Eyesight Requirements for Safe Driving

For many of us, being able to drive is a fundamental freedom. Getting your first driving permit is a kind of rite of passage. And that freedom can be difficult to give up, even when problems with your vision arise. Eyesight requirements for safe driving is discussed in the next section.

However, the issue of safe driving when you have compromised eyesight can be more complicated than you might imagine, particularly from a legal standpoint. The reality is that, though we often conceptualized “blindness” as the complete inability to see, that is rarely the case.

In fact, only about 10 to 15% of those persons with visual impairment lack the ability to perceive any light at all. The remainder, around 85 to 90%, of those with visual impairments fall somewhere on a broad spectrum in regard both to visual acuity and to field of vision.

That makes the legal issues surrounding eyesight requirements and licensed driving quite murky. This article examines the legal issues surrounding eyesight requirements and safe driving.

The Spectrum of Visual Impairment

The type and magnitude of visual impairments can be quite difficult to quantify. Healthy eyesight, in general, is defined in terms of both visual acuity (i.e. the ability to see clearly at varying distances) and the individual’s visual field.

This relates primarily to the person’s peripheral vision or the point at which the individual is able to perceive objects at the left and right edges of an imaginary horizontal plane. While peripheral vision is particularly important for safe driving, the visual field also extends above and below this transverse plane. For humans, the visual field encompasses an area of 170 degrees. The majority of the visual field, approximately 100 degrees, is peripheral vision — the ability to perceive objects out of the corner of the eye.

Persons with “perfect” eyesight are generally defined as having 20/20 visual acuity, meaning that they can clearly read the eighth line of the Snellen eye chart at a distance of 20 feet. Likewise, the optimal visual field perception score is 100 degrees, meaning that the individual can perceive objects across a transverse visual field of this size, as well as roughly 60 degrees above and 70 degrees below it.

Legal Classifications of Vision Impairment

Given the complexity of quantifying vision perception, the legal classification of vision impairments is an inevitably contentious and imperfect process. For this reason, state laws vary widely in regard to how vision impairment is legally defined and what sorts of legal restrictions these thresholds trigger, if any.

The World Health Organization (WHO) generally defines “low vision” as a visual acuity score between 20/60 and 20/200. A 20/60 acuity means that one must stand 20 feet away to clearly see an object that someone with perfect vision can clearly see from 60 feet. A 20/200 score means that one must be within 20 feet of what a perfectly sighted person can see at a distance of 200 feet in order to see it.

In regard to visual field perception, a loss of 20 degrees or greater is typically thought to indicate vision impairment.

It’s important to note that vision testing generally is performed using the “best available correction,” such as corrective lenses or tools. The individual’s level of visual perception is also generally measured in the “better eye,” since acuity and field of vision are rarely identical in both eyes.

Eyesight Requirements and State Driving Laws

To the layperson, the concept of a person who has been declared “legally blind” possessing a valid driver’s license may seem improbable but, in fact, it is quite common.

Again, while state laws vary widely, most states do permit persons with significant vision impairments to possess a driver’s license. Often, however, these are restricted licenses that may require the driver to wear the appropriate corrective lenses or to use other equipment, such as the bioptic lens, at all times while driving.

Other restrictions may limit when and where the individual may drive. This may include prohibitions on driving at night, in low light conditions, or on busy freeways or interstates. Persons with a visual impairment may also only be authorized to drive short distances and for essential purposes, such as to work, receive medical care, or purchase food and medications.

However, when you do return to the road, one of the most important things you can do is to be prepared for every contingency. Accidents can and do happen to us all, and that doesn’t mean that you should panic if one happens to you. You won’t automatically lose your license, provided you were driving safely and responsibly and within the parameters of your license.


No matter what, though, it’s imperative that you don’t panic, leave the scene of the accident, or fail to notify the police. That’s only going to increase the likelihood that you’ll face legal liability and the potential revocation of your license.

How To Stay Safe and Legal on the Road

When you have a vision impairment, it’s not inevitable that you will have to give up your license. The first and most important thing to do is to know your rights and research the driving laws in your state.

It’s also critical to coordinate with a team of experts in ophthalmic care, adaptive driving equipment, and rehabilitation. These specialists can educate you on the vast array of technologies that may help you to drive safely — and legally.

If you have a service dog, it’s also essential to prepare them for your return to the road. Work with your dog in the car to help them acclimate to the sights and sounds of the vehicle and to the safety restraints they will need to wear while in motion.

The Takeaway

Eyesight is a complex thing. So, too, is legally defining vision impairment or the driving restrictions that may be warranted because of it. State laws on safe driving for persons with vision impairment vary widely, but just because you are experiencing vision loss does not necessarily mean you can’t drive safely and legally.

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