by Orlin Sorensen
People with the condition experience a general drop in visual acuity but are particularly affected by glare. This can be troublesome during the day, but much worse at night, as the unexpected shine of high-beams can easily blind an unprepared driver.
Night driving can be a tricky prospect for even the most keen-eyed among us. Other cars move quickly, road conditions are unpredictable, and both of those conditions are exacerbated by low light levels.
Difficult as it is under normal conditions, night driving becomes downright dangerous for people suffering from conditions that damage their night vision.
A wide range of diseases, deficiencies, and syndromes can all contribute to poor night vision. Cataracts are perhaps the most well-known. These cloudy deposits commonly form in older eyes as proteins change shape and become light-scattering debris.
LASIK surgery is also a known cause of night blindness. Patients who have undergone eye surgery can experience halos and blurring when exposed to bright light – either temporarily or permanently – and may have to deal with some of the same sensitivity to glare that cataracts sufferers have.
And that’s just the start. Night blindness can be caused by progressive diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa, direct injury to the eye, and even nutritional deficiencies (low Vitamin A intake can quickly bring on a case of night blindness).
Overall, a serious disorder, and a much more common one than we’d perhaps like to imagine. For people with night blindness, the single best piece of advice we can offer is this: stay off the road at night until you’ve managed to find treatment for the condition.
However, we’re also aware that this isn’t always an option. Emergencies and other circumstances can put anyone behind the wheel at a moment’s notice. If you do find yourself driving in adverse light conditions, there are a few things you can do.
Find The Right Lenses
As many night-blindness-causing conditions primarily cause sensitivity to glare, grabbing the right glasses can go a long way toward making them easier to cope with. Anti-glare treatment has been around for some time, and may be your best friend for nighttime drives. Finding the right pair can instantly cut down on serious symptoms, such as the starbursts and halos that might otherwise appear around light sources.
Plan Your Route Carefully
Even if you do find yourself needing to head somewhere after dark, it’s still up to you what route you take to get there. Use your knowledge of local roads to plot a course that minimizes risks peculiar to vision-impaired night driving.
For example, if you know a certain road experiences high volumes of traffic during later hours, you may want to consider taking side roads. That is, if said side roads are decently lit – as bad as bright light can be, a total lack of streetlamps is almost certainly worse.
If possible, try to stick to streets you already know. Familiar surroundings are inevitably easier to handle than novel ones. If you’re forced to take a new route, then consider using Google Maps’ Streetview function to visually scout out reference points and areas – like big intersections – that might pose their own particular set of risks.
Maintain Your Vehicle
This goes for all drivers, but it’s doubly important for anyone coping with impaired night vision. Pay extremely close attention to the condition of your car. This obviously means performing routine maintenance, such as oil changes and tire replacements, but also calls for some extra TLC to account for poor vision.
Headlights are an obvious place to start. Ensure that your bulbs are in good repair and aren’t about to burn out on you. Periodic alignments can also help keep them in peak condition. Also, don’t neglect to maintain headlight covers. These haze over rapidly, and many owners forget that they need consistent cleaning to stay fully transparent.
Carefully clean windows and mirrors, and keep defoggers on high if necessary. Dirty or smeared surfaces only make spotting obstacles and other drivers more difficult. Keeping them clean is a low-investment, high-yield way to boost driver safety.
Control Light Levels Inside Your Car
Use light judiciously inside your own car. It’s easy to pop a dome light on before leaving, then forget to turn it off when you’re on the move. However, it’s a bad move – higher light levels inside your car can further compromise night vision by making eyes much slower to adapt to low levels of light.
Some drivers may also want to consider dimming internal displays. This is actually a trick some professional drivers use to reduce eye fatigue, and it can come in handy if brightly lit dials are aggravating your eyes. Of course, there’s a thin line between comfortable and difficult to see. When push comes to shove, be certain that you can actually read important details such as speed and gas levels.
Be Smart, Not Proud
Sometimes, a bit of caution goes a long way. Too many drivers adapt slowly to changes in their eyes, and maintain driving habits that, while appropriate to younger drivers, become actively dangerous to older ones.
First, stay in the slow lane, and don’t be too quick to pass. Changing lanes opens up blind spots for everyone, and these are much worse for those of us with low vision.
Second, be realistic about your reaction time and your vision. Give cars in front of you a wide berth. Also, be aware of how far ahead you can see. If your headlights and vision combine to give you an extremely short range of vision, drive only at speeds that allow you to stop within that distance, even if it’s a little narrower than you might like.
Take Care of Your Eyes
Night blindness isn’t always preventable, but some basic best practices can help many people mitigate or avoid it.
Nutrition is extremely important. Foods rich in Vitamin A, such as leafy greens, give your eyes the nutrients they need to stay healthy. Frequent eye exams can also help detect problems early on, letting you head them off before they seriously impact vision.
Eye exercises are also a good way to maintain overall visual acuity. A simple regimen like the one offered on RYV can slow the gradual loss of vision that normally comes with age, working to keep you sharper during all hours of the day.