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How to Drive with Low Vision

Updated: Mar 15, 2021

Driving and Visual Impairment

The ability to drive is a privilege that many of us take for granted. Driving affects our quality of life and is a means to exercise freedom of mobility. The ability to drive gives people access to better jobs. It lets visually impaired parents share more fully in their children’s lives when they can attend school events. Driving also decreases the social isolation many visually impaired adults feel when they cannot leave their homes. Arizona, and nearly all states, allow some visually impaired people to drive with bioptic telescopes. Driving with a visual impairment while using bioptic telescopes is a very personal decision and that decision should be made collaboratively by the individual, the low vision eye specialist and the motor vehicle department. Vision is not the only factor that should be taken into consideration. Cognitive ability, reaction time and use of good judgment are equally important. Your eye doctor will discuss these and other issues during your evaluation. Using information obtained from a functional low vision evaluation you and your eye doctor will determine if you are a candidate for the Bioptic Driving Program. What are Bioptic Telescopes? Bioptic telescopes are miniature telescopes which are mounted into ophthalmic corrective lenses, usually above the person’s line of sight. The telescopes can be focusable or non-focusable and come in powers from 1.7X – 8X. The focusable telescopes usually focus from infinity to 12" making them useful for distance, intermediate and near tasks. Our patients use the telescopes not only for driving but also for seeing signs in the grocery store and airport, products on grocery store shelves, watching television and for seeing their computer monitor.

Parking lot viewed normally (above)

Parking lot viewed through a 3X telescope (above)

How are Bioptic Telescopes Used for Driving?

Mounting the bioptic telescope into the lens in a pair of eyeglasses allows the driver to use his regular prescription lenses as well as the telescope gaining first an overall view and then very detailed view of the road, traffic and signs up ahead. The Bioptic Telescopic System allows a trained user the opportunity to detect objects or movement within his/her driving scene using the wide field of view available through the regular spectacle lens and to resolve fine details such as road signs and traffic lights by glancing briefly and intermittently into and out of the miniature telescope. (See photo).

The bioptic driver’s use of the telescope can be likened to the normally sighted driver’s use of rear and side mirrors. They are used as spotting tools for one or two seconds at a time. The telescopes come in a variety of sizes, styles and powers can be made in either focusable or non–focusable versions. They can contain the person’s eyeglass prescription and/or tints. The telescopes are focused at distance while driving. Your eye doctor will help you determine the best telescope for your needs. Driving with a bioptic telescope requires training in the general use of the telescope as well as a behind-the-wheel evaluation. The bioptic telescope is a prescriptive device, prescribed by either an optometrist or ophthalmologist specializing in low vision rehabilitation.

If you are undecided as to whether you wish to pursue a bioptic driver’s license and would like to work with a telescope before making this decision, your eye doctor will have you work with a telescope during your routine low vision evaluation. We can even provide training with a hand held telescope so that you can view distance objects at home and while you are a passenger in a car. This may help you decide if bioptic driving is for you.

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