With the holidays just around the corner, many of us will be traveling home to be with our families, and with shorter winter days, it’s likely much of this driving will occur at night. According to a nationwide survey conducted on behalf of Road & Travel magazine and ACUVUE® Brand Contact Lenses, nearly one of every three drivers say they have difficulty seeing all or most of the time while driving in the dark.
Both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Safety Council site the fatality rate at nighttime to be three times higher than the daytime rate. Headlight glare and decreased visibility (especially if there’s snow) are contributing factors to these accidents. It’s especially important to ensure young drivers, those who might be traveling home from college for winter break, are aware of precautions to take while driving at night – the per-mile crash rate for teenage drivers is three times higher after 9 p.m. than during the day.
While holiday travel certainly cannot be avoided, there are some common problems that affect our eyes while driving at night and ways to remedy these, that all drivers should be aware of to stay safer on the road.
Noted optometrist Dr. Cristina Schnider and John Ulczyski, Group Vice President of the National Safety Council, discuss this topic in the newest episode of Healthy Vision™ with Dr. Val Jones, a free eye health podcast from the makers of ACUVUE® Brand Contact Lenses available at www.blogtalkradio.com/healthyvision.
How Vision Changes in the Dark
Switching focus from near to far becomes more difficult, especially for people over 40. A condition called night myopia causes the eyes to “pull in” until they find something to lock onto, and it can be hard to make your eyes leave that focus, when you really should be looking ahead to what is several hundred yards down the road.
When you’re looking straight ahead, the very center of your vision is the only part of your eye that really sees color, whereas side vision is mostly motion. At night when you’re looking straight ahead and an object is in light, you can see the color, but it requires more head and eye movement to really recognize the color of the signs on the sides of the road.
Starting at age 20, the amount of light needed to drive doubles every 13 years, so by the time a person is about 60, they’ll need 10 times as much light as a 19-year-old to see clearly. This is a result of the aging process, which actually creates a smaller pupil size. Older drivers who need more light to see should compensate by slowing down, because the amount of light is directly related to how clear an image is and how quickly the brain can respond.
Another consequence of the aging process is that the lens inside the eye that helps us focus puts on layers, and as a result this lens gets a little bit less flexible, so we don’t see from near to far as easily. If you progress further and start having cataracts, which is a cloudiness of the lens, light can actually be scattered and “bounce around” more inside the eye.
A surprising 25% of travel occurs during hours of darkness, and 49% of fatal crashes occur at night. Here are some tips to keep in mind to ensure you’re taking all the necessary precautions:
• Drive defensively – you know reaction time is different at night and your visibility may be affected, so drive with an increased sense of awareness of those around you.
• Turn headlights on during early twilight – some car companies now have lights that come on automatically or stay on all the time, and that’s been shown to make a difference.
• Use high beams with care – you should not be using high beams when other cars are around you as it will cause increased glare for those drivers.
• Never look directly at the glare of oncoming headlights – keep your eyes “above” the headlights and keep them moving across the roadway as a car passes.
• Schedule annual eye exams – many people may not realize they are driving with an undiagnosed or under-corrected vision problem. They may not account for that need for extra time or distance, and are putting themselves at risk for accidents and close calls.
• If you wear glasses, there are now polarized lenses, with anti-reflection coatings that can keep reflections at bay while driving at night.
• In contact lenses, there are lenses especially for astigmatism, which can help stabilize vision for those that suffer. Using lenses that combine extra moisture can also ensure that eyes do not dry out as much in some situations where you might have air conditioning or heating blowing on your eyes.
• Car headlights should be adjusted properly – it is estimated that more than half of all vehicles are driving around with improperly adjusted headlights.
• In bad weather, pay special attention to speed and following distance – your vision may be impaired during a snow or rain storm, but compensating by slowing down and allowing more distance will decrease your risk for close calls.
To listen to the full podcast on safe driving at night from Healthy Vision™ with Dr. Val Jones, visit: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/healthyvision.