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Planning Retirement Online

Driving in the dark

September 2016

With the nights drawing in and the weather deteriorating, driving can become more difficult. But as we age, many of us find that driving after dark can become a real challenge and it is quite common for older people to say that they don’t really drive at night.

Some of it is confidence of course; driving at night in any conditions require higher levels of concentration and alertness and for some people, this can prove to be too tiring.

But there are also physical differences. Few know that older drivers really do have more difficulty at seeing in dark conditions and at night time. A 50 year old driver may need twice the levels of light than a 30 year old needs to see well. That is quite a significant difference.

Night myopia is another problem that could affect us. General myopia is short sight, when you can see near objects clearly but distant objects are blurred. However, recent research has shown that in poor light, people with good vision can become temporarily myopic. Below the age of around 45 most people can adjust the focus of their eyes between long and short distances without even thinking about it. However, in dark conditions this system can break down and the focus of the eye can try and settle on a near distance of around a metre. When you factor age into the equation here, trying to adjust this night time tendency of the eye to focus on a near distance can be harder and take longer.

Approaching lights from other cars can also become a major problem as we age. This can be due to a variety of changes in the eye including cataracts. Also, the corneas and lenses in older eyes often become less clear; this causes light to scatter inside the eye producing sometimes quite dramatic glare. These changes can also reduce the ability to discern subtle differencies in brightness and contrast, again making it harder to see object on the road at night. Glasses won’t help here and while some older people get over the problem by concentrating on the nearside kerb as they drive along, this is really not a safe way to drive and if you are badly affected by glare during night driving, then it is best to limit your driving to daylight hours.

When we were young smoking was quite normal; and for older people who have continued this habit, then along with the health problems smoking can also affect your night vision.

Interestingly, like other parts of our body, our eyes slow down as we age. This includes reacting to darkness; our pupils don’t dilate as much in the dark as younger people; this can result in older drivers watching the road as if they are wearing dark night.

Then of course there is a dramatic rise in medical problems that affect the eye such as age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy. Older eyes really are vulnerable to many problems.

At the moment, the medical standard for driving is to read a car number plate from 20 metres away.  However, certain groups such as Brake are campaigning for regular eye testing to be part of the requirements to drive.  But at the end of the day you are responsible for your control of a vehicle, and if you have any doubts at all, then speak to your eye specialist so that you can get professional advice.

It is not fair on yourself, or on other drivers, to go out on the roads when you are not totally confident that your vision is good enough to cope with all the conditions British weather can throw at you.

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