Driving with Age-related Macular Degeneration

Written by Dr. David Evans   Last modified on April 22, 2019

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD or ARMD) is the leading cause of blindness in people 65 and older. As we age and our eye health begins to deteriorate, vision can be significantly compromised. In the case of AMD, deterioration of retinal tissue (macula) can impact our central vision and eventually create blind spots (also called scotomas). Basically, the older you get, the more likely you are to develop macular degeneration. Obviously, this can significantly affect our day-to-day living and habits. For example, blind spots in our central vision can be extremely dangerous when driving.

A 2015 study conducted by Harvard Medical School and Schepens Eye Research Institute, Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Boston, evaluated the effects such AMD issues could have on driving. Driving simulators were used to study the effect of visual blind spots on drivers’ ability to detect and react to potential dangers. The study’s findings indicated that people with central vision blind spots (such as those associated with AMD), experienced delayed reactions to avoid pedestrian hazards. This makes perfect sense given how AMD progresses and damages vision.

Safe driving is all about reading the road in order to best evaluate situations quickly and early to prevent accidents. The fact that drivers with AMD are not as adept at evaluating situations and responding as quickly, means that they pose a safety concern on the road.

POV of an older, female driver with her hands on the steering wheel staring through the windshield

In the U.S., the Department of Motor Vehicles has regulations with regard to visual acuity, requiring it to be around 20/40. But there is nothing in place to regulate other visual factors, such as the loss of central vision associated with AMD. (Such regulations are in place in other countries, like the United Kingdom and Australia.) What’s more, drivers who don’t meet the 20/40 standard may still be able to operate a vehicle on some sort of restricted license (evaluated state by state). In fact, some states allow drivers with acuity as low as 20/200 to operate a vehicle in some capacity. And it should be noted that AMD patients with a visual acuity of 20/200 are almost certainly going to have quite a large blind spot in their vision. But the DMV regulations are currently unable to evaluate or measure this. Quite frankly it’s a rather serious concern.

Oftentimes, older people struggle to let go of activities and habits they are no longer as capable of managing. Speaking with aging parents about whether or not the time has come to stop driving can be difficult, but when it comes to safety, it’s unfortunately a conversation that simply must be had.

To check out the complete study, click here.

To learn more about AMD, check out our comprehensive macular degeneration article.