Certain visual impairments might impair a person’s ability to drive safely. Depending on the severity, functional impairment, and stability of the condition, DMV may take different actions when receiving a report of a driver with a visual impairment.
Can I Get a Driver’s License (DL) if I Have a Vision Condition?
It depends. The DMV’s vision screening standard is the ability to see 20/40 with both eyes together, with or without corrective lenses. Drivers who fail the vision screening are referred to a vision specialist who must examine the driver and complete a Report of Vision Examination (DL 62) form. The driver must submit the completed DL 62 form to DMV. Limited term licenses, temporary licenses or extensions are not issued to drivers with low vision who have failed the vision screening until a completed DL 62 has been reviewed and it is determined that the vision condition does not impair the person’s ability to drive safely. Individuals with extremely poor vision (visual acuity of 20/200 or worse), may not be scheduled for a drive test.
Following review of the DL 62, the driver may be scheduled for a drive test or Supplemental Driving Performance Evaluation (SPDE) to determine whether the vision condition impairs the ability to drive or whether the driver can adequately compensate for the vision condition. If the driving test is failed and the condition is severe and cannot be compensated for, a revocation is warranted.
If DMV determines from the evidence that the vision condition could improve and/or the examiner believes driving skills could improve with additional training, restrictions that limit driving exposure, but allow for additional training or practice, can be imposed. Drivers who want to learn to drive or retain their driving privilege may be issued a restricted license or instruction permit for a sufficient length of time suitable to their needs.
If an examiner gives a driving test or special driving test to a low-vision driver who has performed dangerously poor and the condition renders the person unsafe to drive, DMV can revoke the driver’s license (as stated in California Vehicle Code (CVC) §13953).
The driver may request a hearing after receiving a notice of suspension or revocation.
When a driver notices something that may be important to their driving such as a road sign, hazard, or change in the traffic flow, central vision is used to discern detail, identify, and/or recognize what the driver is looking at.
DMV uses Snellen wall charts to screen driver’s license applicants for a far visual acuity of no worse than 20/40 in Snellen notation. Impaired visual acuity makes it harder to discriminate the fine differences that distinguish one letter from another. Passing this test means that the applicant can read the letters at 20 feet or more that are large enough for a young and healthy observer to read at 40 feet.
Visual acuity impaired by one or more vision conditions can result in the driver failing to read signs and/or recognize hazards in a timely manner.
Normally when you look at something, you center the visual image in the central portion of your point of view. Peripheral or side vision is the field of view that surrounds the central portion of the vision field.
In driving, peripheral vision is used in part to detect information that may be important for safe driving. This kind of information includes road signs, appearances of hazards, and changes in the flow of traffic. When a healthy driver notices something important, head and eye movements are used to move the visual image into the central portion of the visual field. In other words, the driver moves their head and eyes to look at the object or event of interest.
Peripheral vision is also used in controlling the vehicle. When the driver looks in the rear view mirror, peripheral vision is used to monitor traffic in front of the vehicle. In keeping the vehicle centered in the lane, peripheral vision is used to monitor the lane boundaries.
Peripheral vision impaired by one or more vision conditions can result in the driver failing to react to a hazard coming from the driver’s far left or far right, failing to heed a stop light suspended over an intersection, weaving while negotiating a curve, and/or driving too close to parked cars.
A driver’s vision can be good in the daylight, but very different at night. Driving safely at night requires seeing well not only under low light, but also requires drivers to see low contrast objects. Someone wearing dark clothes and crossing the street in front of the driver is much harder to detect at night than during the day because there is much less contrast at night between darkly clothed pedestrians and a dark background.
Night vision impaired by one or more vision conditions can result in the driver failing to react to hazards located directly in front of the vehicle, tailgating, and/or failing to steer when necessary because the driver is unable to see low contrast features of the roadway such as its edges and irregularities in the road surface.
Glare is the disruption of vision due to a bright light (such as the light from the headlights of oncoming traffic at night) so that you can’t see very well what is in front of you (such as the outline of the car ahead of you).
Glare resistance is the extent to which the driver can still see critical objects and events while facing a steady source of glare such as the setting sun or the light from the headlights on a steady stream of oncoming traffic at night.
Glare recovery is how fast the driver’s vision function returns to what it was before the glare was encountered.
Glare resistance/glare recovery impaired by one or more vision conditions can result in the driver being blinded by a glare source and consequently missing curves in the road, striking unobserved pedestrians, and/or crashing into the rear of slow-moving, stalled, or stopped vehicles.
Judgment of distance impaired by one or more vision conditions can result in the driver stopping too short of the limit line or inside the intersection, turning too wide or too short, and/or failing to maintain speed and/or following distance appropriate for prevailing driving conditions.
Eye movements impaired by one or more vision conditions can result in visual scanning deficiencies. There may be uncontrolled up and down or random scanning rather than side-to-side scanning. There could also be a tendency to look at a specific object too long or continuously look straight ahead. Consequently, the driver may fail to react to hazards and fail to heed traffic signs and signals. Changing lanes could be especially hazardous if the driver spends an excessive amount of time looking to the rear of the vehicle.
Visual perception is how your brain processes what you see in front of you. Visual perception impaired by one or more vision conditions can result in difficulties with performing several visual tasks at the same time. The driver may have impaired ability to:
- Switch attention to important events without blurred or clustered vision.
- Distinguish foreground from background.
- Determine the position of other vehicles, signs, and pedestrians relative to themselves and to each other.
Consequently, the driver may brake and/or stop unexpectedly, maintain inordinately long following distance (to keep from having to react quickly), fail to react to hazards, and/or fail to heed traffic signs and signals.
Review the Vision Conditions and Actions Chart to learn more about the range of severity, functional impairments, stability of each condition, and actions taken by DMV, including restrictions that may need to be imposed on the driving privilege.
Need something else?
Senior Citizens' Driving Guide
Low and impaired vision affects many drivers as they age; if you are a seasoned driver and want to stay safe on the road, take a look at our Seniors’ Driving Guide.
Deteriorated Driving Skills
Sometimes, a driver’s declining mental or physical state means that they can no longer drive safely. If someone you know is a possible risk to themselves or others while operating a vehicle, let DMV know.
If DMV orders a discretionary action against a person’s driving privilege, that person has the right to a hearing before DMV to challenge the action and review the evidence supporting it.