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The Road Ahead: Driving Devices for People with AMD & Low Vision

Many of us take our ability to drive for granted. By enabling your mobility, being able to drive can significantly improve your quality of life. Driving makes it easier to visit your friends and loved ones, find better jobs, make appointments, get involved in your community, and to be generally independent. For people suffering from age-related macular degeneration (AMD), maintaining that independence may be possible with the help of some special driving aids for macular degeneration.

Low Vision Glasses

Many people who suffer from reduced vision develop lower contrast sensitivity, which impairs your ability to separate objects from a background. This can make it difficult for a driver to notice the edge of a curb or spot signs. One of the best low vision aids for driving are tinted lenses, which can greatly alleviate contrast problems.  Tinted glasses that are polarized with a yellow or orange tint can make our ability to see contrast much stronger. Amber and yellow tints are also effective at reducing glare, which can be extra dangerous for anyone who already suffers from low vision.

Macular Degeneration Driving Glasses

Bioptic telescopes are miniature telescopes that are typically mounted near the top of a pair of eyeglasses, just above a person’s natural line of sight. They allow the viewer to enlarge distant and hard-to-see images. Because bioptic telescopes are mounted near the top of a lens, drivers may continue to look through their regular eyewear the majority of the time, switching to the telescopic view for short glances, similar to how a rear-view mirror is used.

Available with both focusable and non-focusable lenses, images can be magnified by as much as eight times.  And with the right training, bioptic telescopes can help a driver with impaired vision to see signs and signals as early as possible, giving them plenty of time to react.

Requirements for Bioptic Driving

Bioptic telescopes aren’t right for everyone. Driving with macular degeneration is a serious decision that needs to be made with in conjunction with an eye specialist and your local DMV. AMD candidates who want to use bioptic telescopes need at least 20/200 acuity, and can’t have any defects in their peripheral vision. Their macular degeneration needs to be stable, and they need the motor skills, attentiveness, and good judgment necessary to scan the road quickly while making sound decisions.

The first step to becoming a bioptic telescope driver is to have a visual exam that tests many of the important visual skills necessary for safe driving, including your field of view, visual acuity, and contrast sensitivity. This is important because strong performance in these tests is the best predictor of safe driving.

The next step is to have a bioptic telescope specifically fitted for the driver, custom-designed to suit their individual needs, as determined by an optometrist. Once the telescope is ready, training to use the telescope is necessary, typically provided by an occupational therapist. After training is complete, a final evaluation may be performed by your doctor before receiving their recommendation.

Getting Started

Right now, 41 states allow bioptic telescopes, but each state has its own rules and regulations, and many states require a behind-the-wheel training before allowing a bioptic driver to become licensed. Be sure to talk to your local DMV to learn all the regulations regarding the use of bioptic telescopes and other driving aids in your community.