How Cataracts Affect Older Driver Safety

Coming up Dec. 7-11 is Older Driver Safety Awareness Week. It’s a good time to think about any challenges an aging person may have to driving safely. At the top of the list is good vision! Because cataracts are very common among older adults, it’s important to get regular eye exams.

During the exam, your doctor will check for the presence of cataracts, which are caused by the clouding of the lens of the eye. Cataracts cause dull, blurry vision and make it harder to take part in normal, daily activities.

The good news is that cataracts are very treatable. A simple, safe surgery can markedly improve a senior’s sight. Before older adults undergo cataract surgery, they—and their families—might wonder if it’s safe for them to drive. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers this information:

Be alert for signs of cataracts which might make it dangerous to drive:

  • Difficulty seeing at dawn, dusk, and at night
  • Sunlight seems too bright
  • Night driving is harder due to glare from car headlights
  • Colors look faded
  • You might see double images with the affected eye

If you notice these symptoms, see your eye healthcare provider right away. Your doctor may recommend surgery, and you may also be referred to a specialist who can help. A driver rehabilitation specialist can test how well you drive on and off the road. They may also offer training to help improve your driving skills, and keep you and others safe on the road. To find a driver rehabilitation specialist, visit the website of the American Occupational Therapy Association.

Can I still drive with a cataract?

If your doctor has told you that you have a cataract, there are certain things that you should know and do to remain a safe driver. The NHTSA says:

Every person’s cataract is different. In its early stages, your cataract may be so small that it does not affect your vision. You may be able to drive safely for many years if you have no other serious medical problems. However, over time the cataract may worsen and cloud more of the lens of your eye.

It may become hard to see and to drive safely if you have a cataract. You may need to plan car trips to avoid times when vision may be most affected—for example, driving west at dusk into a setting sun or during rainy conditions at night. Clean your car windshields (both inside and outside) often so vision is not reduced even further. You also should clean your automobile headlights to provide as much light as possible for night driving.

Check into alternatives to driving

If cataracts keep you from driving, you can still get out and about. Learn about public transportation, such as the bus or rapid transit, and local ride services for seniors. Check into taxis or ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft. If you think you only need a short-term solution until you have cataract surgery, family and friends also may be happy to give you a lift.