Status: 02.10.2023, 04:45 a.m.
By: Romina Kunze
Poor eyesight can be treacherous for the driver and dangerous for other road users. Older people sometimes overestimate their eyesight. Experts strongly advise testing from the age of 60.
Brussels – The EU is discussing, among other things, whether older people should undergo a regular driving test in the future in order to be allowed to continue driving. In Germany, the plans for the new driving licence guidelines are facing headwinds from politicians and lobbyists: automobile associations see them as paternalism for motorists, and the ADAC is in favour of voluntary driving fitness checks instead of wanting to install "prohibition programmes". Nevertheless, experts from the road safety sector consider it useful to put one's own skills to the test.
Driving fitness tests for pensioners: Driving with cataracts or glaucoma – objects only suddenly appear
As a rule, the ability to react decreases with age. And eyesight can also deteriorate with increasing age – in combination, this is not the best prerequisite for driving a vehicle. In particular, cataracts and glaucoma can often become unknown and dangerous restrictions when driving in old age.
From the age of 50, the risk of both eye diseases increases, which usually occurs gradually and with a time delay in both eyes. About 20 out of 100 people between the ages of 65 and 74 have cataracts, and more than 74 out of 50 people over the age of 100, according to the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). Around eight percent of people over the age of 75, on the other hand, suffer from glaucoma.
Experts advise motorists to undergo regular ophthalmological examinations at least from the age of 60. © Imago
The eye disease is insidious: On the one hand, visual acuity is steadily decreasing, colors and contours are blurring more and more, and those affected look through a kind of fog (cataracts). For people with glaucoma, on the other hand, "blind spots" can arise. Objects in the central field of view are usually clear at first, but they can disappear in the peripheral viewing angle. When driving, the road in front of you is usually still clearly visible. On the other hand, people, vehicles or street signs on the right and left of the sidewalks are not. They reappear unexpectedly – usually when it's already too late.
Poor eyesight sets in insidiously – it leads to overestimation of oneself when driving a car
"The risk of life-threatening accidents increases immensely in glaucoma," explains Frank Tost of the German Ophthalmological Society (DOG) to the online magazine Research and Knowledge. A typical sign of eye diseases caused by cataracts is a disturbed perception in changing light conditions, for example when stepping out of the darkness into the light or at dusk. This leads to uncertainties when driving at night. "Those affected drive more slowly, are quickly blinded by oncoming vehicles or brake too late because they do not recognize stop signs."
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Because the loss of vision due to eye diseases often progresses only gradually, those affected often do not even notice it themselves for a long time. Many people assess their eyesight better than it actually is, as a study by the Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt) shows. Almost all subjects (99.2 percent) were of the opinion that their eyesight was good to very good. An eye test proved the opposite: almost a fifth (16.4 percent) even failed.
Therefore, it is important to have your vision tested regularly in order to detect the signs of a disease at an early stage. "We recommend regular ophthalmological examinations at least from the age of 60," says the DOG expert. This would bethe responsibility of every road user, since in Germany – unlike in other EU countries – an eye test is only mandatory before the driving test.
Seniors behind the wheel often make mistakes when turning and take the right of way – out of poor eyesight?
Figures from the German Motor Vehicle Monitoring Association (DEKRA) support the expert's assessment. The 2021 Safety Report shows that misconduct among drivers aged 75 or older is almost identical to that of 18- to 20-year-olds. On the one hand, the seniors drove much slower. On the other hand, they were much less likely than young people to be under the influence of alcohol and kept a greater distance from other vehicles. But they disregard many times more right-of-way rules and make mistakes when turning. Especially in urban areas.
According to the report, accidents involving personal injury have increased in all age groups over the past 15 years. From 2015 to 2019, however, the number of accidents caused by drivers over the age of 65 increased at a similar rate as among those under 20. In addition, the number of seriously injured seniors in road traffic increased. The figures in the report refer to evaluations by the Federal Statistical Office from 2019.
Overall, misconduct is by far the highest among young and older drivers compared to other age groups. In addition to the driving ability tests for seniors, the new driving licence guidelines also provide for restrictions for novice drivers. For example, speed limits and a ban on SUVs. (rku)