How to improve your vision for night driving

person driving at night into headlights with reflection in the mirror

Alice PIper

Posted April 26, 2022


Many people find it more challenging to drive at night, and it's even harder if you're suffering from poor eyesight. Here’s what an optometrist wants you to know about night vision and increasing your safety on the road.

Despite less traffic on the road, driving at night has always been more dangerous than driving during the daytime. Data from the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) reveals that a third of all road fatalities and over 300 crashes per year occurred between 8pm and 6am in Victoria, over the five-year period ending December 2021.

For drivers with poor or deteriorating vision, driving after sunset becomes even more challenging, and further heightens the risk of having a car crash.

OPSM Optometrist Elizabeth Kodari says vision deterioration is something that shouldn’t be ignored, as common eye conditions can cause car headlights to become blurry, road signs harder read, and hazards harder to spot.

“People who find it difficult to focus on their driving at night because of increased light exposure should speak to their optometrist. Sometimes, a simple change such as a prescription update is required. Other times, the issue may represent eye health changes including night vision loss,” explains Kodari.

"We’ve seen people neglect eye care during the pandemic, putting off eye tests and ignoring eyesight issues. However, eye checks are probably the most important thing you can do when it comes to catching problems early and doing something about it.”


What causes poor night vision?

Common causes of poor night vision include:

Myopia

Myopia refers to people who are short-sighted, as they can also suffer from poor night vision. This is because myopic eyes tend to be longer than the retina, meaning the retinal pigment can be stretched, leading to sensitivity to low light.

“The key to managing myopia is ensuring you eye health checks and prescriptions are up to date, so if your vision doesn’t feel right, go see your optometrist,” says Kodari.

Cataracts

Cataracts are caused by changes to the lens of the eye, causing it to take in fluid. Cataracts slowly cloud the lens and your vision, impacting on the light that enters your eyes.

“Cataracts are common, especially with age,” says Kodari. “Some people may be unaware that cataracts may impact your vision whilst driving."

Overexposure to sunlight

Wearing sunglasses protects the eyes from harsh damage by preventing the lens of the eye from absorbing more sunlight and UV rays. Overexposure to sunlight can accelerate the formation of cataracts.

“We always recommend wearing sunglasses to help protect your eyes. UV protection is just as important in children, as it is for adults. UV rays can cause irreversible damage to your eyes. They can reflect off surfaces including water, sand and snow and has been associated with long term conditions including cataracts and conjunctival changes,” says Kodari.

Lack of Vitamin A and Zinc

Vitamin A deficiency can be a contributing factor to poor night vision. Ensuring you’re eating enough Vitamin A, as well as Zinc, can help your eyes perform that little bit better on the road at night.

“A healthy diet is hugely important to the overall health of your eyes,” says Kodari. "Antioxidants and omega oils are great for your eyes. Try snacking on fruit and nuts and eating oily fish or eggs a couple of times a week.” 

 

set of headlights in the dark reflecting off a wet road

Poor night vision can cause headlights to become blurry and difficult to see from distances. Image: Shutterstock.


Glasses vs contact lenses for night driving

There are no contact lenses specifically designed for driving at night. If you’re someone who wears monovision or multifocal contact lenses, you may find that your distance vision, especially at dawn and dusk, is compromised due to the changes in light with the sun rising and setting.

"It's worth considering wearing glasses for driving at night or swapping to a pair of distance-only contact lenses,” Kodari says.

“Another thing to be mindful of if you wear contact lenses is that the air from the car's air conditioning can cause dry eyes, making the eyes irritated and uncomfortable. Try positioning air conditioning vents in the car away from your face, and always have some eye drops handy to lubricate your eyes if dryness does occur.” 

How often should I visit an optometrist?

Kodari says ensuring you’re up to date with seeing your optometrist is key to preventing eyesight problems.

“We recommend seeing your optometrist at least once every two years based on your eye health needs, or sooner as directed by your optometrist. This will ensure that your prescription is up to date for both glasses and contact lenses.  At your next eye check, also ask your optometrist to check if there is a variation in your vision between low light and bright light conditions.

“We want people to be as safe as they can be on the roads, and night vision is key to making this happen. If you have noticed your vision deteriorating, get in to see an optometrist as soon as you can,” Kodari concludes.

 

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