Sooner or later, that moment will come: When you can feel your nose touching the page when trying to read a book. When you can no longer discern the name of a street on a sign. Or when you walk by a friend without saying hello, because you can no longer recognise her face.
Age may be nothing but a number. But it has very real consequences. Wearing glasses is one of the first signs you’re getting older. And for some of us, that moment will arrive sooner rather than later.
But there’s hope.
Getting a pair of glasses or contacts is no longer considered a sign of weakness. On the contrary, they are often considered attractive and an expression of your personality.
A lack of wisdom
Unfortunately, many drivers don’t seem to be aware of these healthy developments. According to a report, almost fifty percent of UK drivers are not wearing their prescription glasses on the road. Almost as many are wearing the wrong kind of sunglasses or night driving glasses, thereby reducing their vision.
In this article, we’ll fill you in on everything you need to know about driving with glasses or contact lenses. We’ll explain the different kinds of glasses and their benefits. We’ll analyse the differences between contacts and glasses when it comes to driving. Finally, we’ll give you some concrete recommendations for finding the best sunglasses out there.
Before we get there, however, here’s a warning: Whatever your choice of glasses, be sure to wear them.
Crackdown: Cassie’s Law
Cassie McCord was only 16 years old, when a car hit her. She wasn’t even on the street when it happened. Just taking a stroll through Colchester, the vehicle abruptly swerved onto the pavement at full speed, running her over. The driver was 87 years old. He, too, was fatally wounded.
The police knew him. His name was Colin Horsfall. And he’d been involved in another accident shortly before, due to his worsening eyesight. He’d been asked to quit driving. But despite failing his eyesight test, he simply stepped into his car again.
After the tragic incident, pressure mounted to keep drivers like Colin from the roads – for their own safety as well as that of others. Although the rules on driving without adequate eyesight were clear, officers did not have the power to enforce them.
Cassie’s Law changed all that. According to Sky News, “drivers are [now] required to renew their licences and must do so every three years from then on. They are also told to disclose any health issues and renew their licences only if they meet the minimum eyesight standards.”
Cassie’s Law is an improvement. But it is only the beginning. At the moment, experts recommend that every driver should have their eyes tested at least once every 2-3 years. It will take time, however, before their calls turn into law.
That said, there are limits to driving with bad eyesight. if your optometrist orders you to wear glasses to be able to drive, you will need to follow his advice. Should your eyesight deteriorate so badly that you’re unable to fulfil these requirements even with glasses, you will need to let the DVLA know. The same goes for medical conditions which seriously affect your eyesight.
So what, exactly, does the test involve?
The official eyesight test includes two components:
- Your vision and
- Your visual field.
What’s the difference between the two?
When speaking of eyesight, we’re usually referring to the former. Your vision expresses how well you can see objects at a distance.
First, an optometrist will measure this using the so-called Snellen Scale. Even if you’ve never performed this scale, you will certainly have seen it: it uses a piece of paper with lines of letters in different sizes. The further down you go, the smaller the letters get. So you start with the top line, which comprises of a single letter, and then work your way down to the small print.
You’ll need to be able to correctly read aloud the letters until the 6/12 line. Afterwards, you’ll have to prove your practical eyesight by reading a number plate at a distance of 20 metres.
Both are by no means easy.
What about the visual field?
The visual field is slightly less obvious. When we think of seeing something, we usually only consider what’s right in front of our eyes. But there is also something called peripheral vision. This includes all of the objects we can take in at the side of our main focal point.
Reduced peripheral vision is definitely a nuisance when performing routine tasks in and around the house. On the street at high speeds, however, it is downright dangerous. Although a lot of this is happening subconsciously, you will need to see what’s happening to your right or left to drive safely. Otherwise, you’ll easily miss cars changing lanes, for example.
Website lookafteryoureyes.com describes how your visual field is measured:
“You look into a machine, focus on a dot or a dim light in the centre of the machine, and click a button when you see a small light flashing around the outside of your vision. During the test, the machine checks whether you are looking away from the centre or pressing the button too often.”
An important remark about the eyesight test
If you’re afraid you’ll flunk your test, don’t worry about it too much. Very few of us have perfect vision. Although only a limited percentage of drivers manage to pass the test with their naked eyes alone, this doesn’t mean you’ll automatically fail it if you can’t. You are allowed to wear your glasses.
Anything else would be bad news for car manufacturers. After all, 68% of UK citizens are wearing glasses according to recent statistics!
What really matters is that you’re able to see properly under realistic conditions. If you require glasses or contacts to pass the test, that’s fine! Just as long as you make sure they’re always up to date and that you actually put them on before stepping on it.
It takes two to drive
Despite the good news, many drivers are still worried. What happens, if you have one good and one bad eye? Won’t the latter ruin your test results?
This is another frequently misunderstood point: The test only requires you to be able to see clearly using both eyes. If one of your eyes is a lot worse than the other, it may feel irritating. But it’s not a reason for failing the test.
That said, if you’re all but blind on one eye, this will significantly impair your ability to see spatially. This is, therefore, something you definitely need to keep in mind.
Contacts versus glasses
As we said, you can pass your eyesight test with your naked eyes, glasses and contact lenses. That, however, does not mean that all of these options are equal.
First off, nothing beats your naked eyes. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer of us keep their natural eyesight into old age. So it’s time to start looking for alternatives.
At first sight, contacts would appear to be closer to natural vision than glasses. They give you a far wider field of vision than glasses in all directions. This is a vital benefit, which you should never underestimate.
Also, contacts do not suffer from dust and dirt like glasses. Although you will need to clean and soak them in fluid every night, they won’t catch dust or fingerprints.
What about glasses?
On the other hand, glasses tend to feel more comfortable, especially on longer trips. If you’ve ever felt the urge to remove your contacts but couldn’t, you know what we’re talking about.
Glasses don’t need to be inferior to contacts, either. The only thing you need to do is wear glasses with exactly the right lenses.
Everything considered, we do tend to regard contacts as the best choice, as long as you can get used to wearing them for longer periods of time. But with the right choice of lenses, glasses can be almost as good.
What’s more, according to some experts, you can actually improve your eyesight using glasses.
Detour: Getting back to 20/20
For years, there have been rumours about techniques for getting your perfect vision back. Wouldn’t it be great if you could pass your eyesight test without having to resort to crutches like glasses or contacts? Wouldn’t you feel safer driving with no irritating contacts or glasses?
Jake Steiner of Endmyopia believes you can achieve just that. His theory goes something like this: Starting in school, we all get too much time in front of screens. We over-emphasise close viewing and neglect distance viewing. As a result, our eye muscles cramp up and start to spasm. Ultimately, you find yourself temporarily unable to switch to wide distance viewing.
Once this starts happening, your optometrist will prescribe a pair of glasses. This makes the issue worse, however. Due to the glasses, your eye now starts to grow longer. As a result, you’ll need increasingly higher prescriptions.
The good thing, according to Steiner, is that you can reverse the process. Although we can not vouch this will get you back to driving without glasses, it is certainly worth it to spend a few minutes on his website. If only for the fact that you’ll understand myopia a lot better afterwards.
Glasses for driving: Overview
Let’s now take a look at all the different kinds of glasses you can use for driving. As you’ll quickly discover, lenses may look pretty simple and straight-forward. Upon closer inspection, however, they’re really masterpieces of technology, refined and honed over centuries of research and experimentation.
We’ll take a look at the six most typical types of glasses available today. We can recommend quite a few of them. Others are optional. A few, meanwhile, are probably better left untouched.
Even simple spectacles tend to come with an anti-reflective coating these days. It reduces the impact of distracting light sources. These include the headlights of cars heading towards you as well as reflections inside the passenger cabin from the touch screen.
Polarised lenses are similar in that they, too, aim at improving visibility and reducing dangerous reflections. Polarised lenses, however, are far more powerful and offer a lot more protection.
How they work
Essentially, after polarisation, your glasses will only let through light from a specific angle. As The Idle Man explains:
“Polarised lenses have a built-in laminated filter which let’s only vertical light rays through and almost completely blocks out horizontal ones. This in turn eliminates glare, and is most noticeable when on or near water, such as when sailing or fishing, as there is a drastic reduction in the brightness of shiny surfaces.”
Particularly driving in rainy weather, on wet surfaces or through snow-covered landscapes can become a lot safer this way.
Polarised lenses are generally a great way of improving visibility under difficult conditions. Make sure not to chose glasses which filter out too much light, however. You do want to still be able to see those wet spots on the road, after all.
Tinted & graded lenses
Tinted and graded lenses are another way of improving visibility. Here, too, the manufacturer changes the lens so that it will only allow certain light frequencies to pass. Tinted lenses are a playful variation of the concept in that they are actually coloured. This creates a far stronger bias in what kind of light these glasses will allow through.
Tinted lenses are often considered a fashion item. They can, however, be very useful. Grey and brownish glasses, for example, are excellent for improving visibility of traffic lights or brake lights.
Graded lenses are a refined version of tinted lenses, which become brighter in the lower part of the glasses. This makes it easier to read the instrument panel and the touch screen even under bad light conditions.
As we become older, our eyesight deteriorates. Thus, in many cases, we will need glasses both for close viewing and distant viewing. Unless you want to switch glasses all the time, bifocal lenses are still the most common solution to the problem. With these, the lower part of the lens is usually reserved for reading. The upper part is for watching TV or driving.
Bifocals are anything but perfect. They rarely feel very natural, for one. Also, they don’t really offer a solution for objects in between these two extremes, at arm’s length, for example. Which is why many opticians have started offering trifocals.
Instead of thinking about trifocals, you should instead give progressive lenses a try. Essentially, these offer different powers spread out organically over the lens, with gradual transitions from one power to the next. This can feel confusing at first. But progressive lenses are usually tailor-made to your needs. Your eyes will thus quickly adapt and the lenses will feel as perfect as a tailor made suit.
In terms of driving, progressive lenses offer a significant improvement over traditional lenses, especially if you are experiencing both myopia and hyperopia.
This is one of the most exciting new developments in the glasses industry. Photochromic lenses respond intelligently to different light situations. They turn darker over day to block out dangerous or distracting light sources. As the night approaches, they clear up again to provide you with maximum visibility in the dark.
This is still very much a technology in the making. Photochromic lenses are by means perfect yet and they’re also quite costly. You will find that high quality sunglasses tend to be better during the daytime and your regular driving glasses better at night.
Right now, photochromic lenses are mainly a practical solution to having to carry around different glasses. They’re certainly no panacea. They are, however, a hopeful glimpse of the future: Just imagine the power of progressive photochromic lenses!
What about night driving glasses?
Of lately, in the media, there has been a lot of talk about night driving glasses. It is easy to see, why. Among all the potential sources of accidents for drivers, night driving ranges highest. Driving at night, in fact, is so dangerous that some insurance companies exclude it from their policies!
Little wonder, then, that expectations are high when it comes to night driving glasses. Just imagine improving your eyesight and safety with nothing but a cheap pair of spectacles! Unfortunately, things are not quite as simple as that.
Essentially, night driving glasses are little more than regular yellow-coloured tinted glasses. The idea behind this is that a yellow tint will improve contrast and sharpness, reduce reflections and generally create a more comfortable viewing environment.
For all of the purported benefits of night time glasses, their benefits have never actually been proven scientifically. On the contrary, many experts are warning against using them. They have a point. Filtering out excess light may be a sensible strategy during the daytime. At night, it seems slightly paradoxical to reduce the influx of light.
For these reasons, we can currently not recommend night driving glasses.
Sunglasses: Wrong and right
Sunglasses work differently from all of the aforementioned concepts. Their main goal is to filter out ultraviolet light, thus reducing strain and preventing serious injuries to the eye.
In terms of safer driving, sunglasses are a great choice. They allow you to keep your eyes naturally open, instead of squinting. And because they are a lot easier on the eye, they allow you to stay more focused for longer.
There is an important caveat, however: You really need to wear the right pair of sunglasses.
As newspaper Express notes:
“Motorists must not wear Class 4/Category 4 sunglasses as they will filter between three and eight per cent of light. Category two lenses, which transmit between 18 per cent and 43 per cent of light, are recommended for daytime driving. According to the AA: “Filter category 4 lenses only transmit between 3 per cent and 8 per cent of light and are not suitable for driving at any time.”
Some of the nicest sunglasses available
As you can see, there is not one perfect pair of glasses for driving. That said, polarised sunglasses can be a great support during the day. And it won’t be long before progressive photochromic lenses will change the entire market.
Right now, the following sunglasses, recommended by website Hi Consumption are a great choice for different tastes and needs:
- American Optical Original Pilot Sunglasses: This company produces for the military, which, even for pacifists, should be a definite selling point. Apparently, Neil Armstrong wore them during the moon mission – an entirely superfluous, but intriguing piece of information.
- Carrera Flat-Top Sunglasses: You can hardly go more classic than this. The Carreras were designed with driving in mind and are thus a perfect choice to reduce eye strain on longer road trips. They look great, too, and are not as expensive as you might think.
- Warby Parker Halford Sunglasses: Hi Consumption predictably lists Ray Ban and Oakley glasses. But these amazing specs by Warby Parker are a fantastic alternative, if you want something different. Produced using ultra durable, high tech materials, these sunglasses will protect your eyes like few other glasses on the market right now.