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Blinded by the Light

Night Driving - Vision After Dark
by Jessica Howell

Daylight Savings Time has come and gone, leaving most daily commuters in the dark on long drives home. While driving at night may not seem like a significant issue for experienced cruisers, it's a serious threat for most people-many of whom experience blurred distance vision and have difficulty seeing signs, exits, and in some cases, pedestrians.

Shedding Light on Driving in the DarkAccording to the National Safety Council (NSC), 90 percent of a driver's reaction is dependent on their vision. Additionally, the NSC and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reveal that fatality rates at night are three times higher than those during the day.

To shed light on the issue, a recent survey was conducted on behalf of ROAD & TRAVEL Magazine and Acuvue Brand Contact Lenses. The results were surprising, exposing the fact that 53 percent of drivers admit feeling uncomfortable during dark drives; and nearly one in three drivers report difficulty seeing all or most of the time while driving at night.

"Driving in dark conditions is one of the most hazardous situations faced by a driver," says Courtney Caldwell, editor-in-chief of ROAD & TRAVEL Magazine. "Roads with low or no lighting, glare from headlights and fluctuations in vision are contributing factors to the disproportionately high rate of car accidents and fatalities that occur between dusk and dawn."

Night DrivingDr. Elsie Brisco, a Los Angeles optometrist, further explains. "Low light levels cause the eye's pupil to dilate, which can actually make existing focusing problems even worse," says Dr. Brisco. For drivers with the common vision condition astigmatism, characterized by oval shaped eye surfaces, blurred vision is even more likely. Also likely, adds Dr. Brisco, is the possibility of eyestrain or fatigue.

The survey, conducted by Kelton Research, questioned a group of 515 vision-corrected adults in order to find out, aside from science, what's going on behind the wheel when the sun goes down. As it turns out, women are worrying more than their male counterparts. Twenty-seven percent of female survey-takers report feeling more uncomfortable in the driver's seat due to their vision problems, while 25 percent of women feel both less safe and more anxious when driving in the dark. Men also admitted to similar feelings, but in smaller numbers.

Also on the forefront of women's minds is sensitivity to light on the road, in the form of headlights from traffic, glare and "halos" that appear around lights at night.

Deer in the HeadlightsSays Caldwell, "Women are especially concerned with safety matters, both on the road and off. Between driving to and from work, carpooling, and running errands, we often find ourselves driving at all times of the day. Because of these various tasks women spend more time on the road than do men. For this reason, it's especially important that women take the time to educate themselves on the perils-and solutions-to the dangers of night driving."

To enlighten women and men on automotive safety matters, ROAD & TRAVEL Magazine offers several safety-related sections, including Automotive Safety & Security, Auto Oopsies, Vehicle Safety Ratings and created specifically for women, What Women Want. So, what should drivers do to prepare themselves for night driving, especially during the early eves of winter months?

Take the following steps to ensure the safest drive possible:

  • Have your eyes checked. Nearly half of Americans report not having seen an eye care professional for an exam in over a year; one quick visit could diagnose any problems and point you in a healthier direction.

  • Prep your vehicle for night driving. Clean headlights, taillights, signal lights and windows (both inside and out) once a week.

  • When in doubt, turn your headlights on. Whether it's dusk or a dreary day, lights help you to see better and make you easier seen.

  • When following another vehicle, keep your headlights switched on low beam, so you don't blind the driver in front of you. In the instance that a fellow driver doesn't offer the same courtesy, and you're a victim of glare, keep your eye on the right edge of the road and use it as a steering guide.

  • Make frequent stops for snacks and stretches. Movement and light food will help ward off tiredness.

  • Pay careful attention to your driving even as the sun goes down. Twilight is one of the most difficult times to be on the road since driver's eyes are constantly changing to adapt to the growing darkness.

About one third of survey respondents who said they have been diagnosed or treated for astigmatism said they are most distracted by trouble seeing or visual discomfort," says Dr. Brisco. "Compared to the overall vision-corrected population, people with astigmatism were significantly more likely to report being disturbed by glare or light sensitivity.

The good news is that almost all levels of astigmatism can be optically corrected with glasses, certain types of contact lenses, such as Acuvue Advance for Astigmatism, or surgery."

Possibly the most shocking statistic of the survey, however, reported that while 73 percent of people believe correcting their vision could improve night time driving, only 27 percent have ever consulted an eye care professional about treatments or products available. Dr. Brisco recommends contacting your eye care professional immediately if you are experiencing any vision problems or visual discomfort.

Any vision problem left uncorrected or under-corrected can result in tragic consequences on the road. A comprehensive eye exam will include testing to diagnose potential problems and determine the correct form of treatment, such as a new pair of glasses or contact lenses," she said.

Sources: ROAD & TRAVEL Magazine, Acuvue, National Safety Council, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Read the complete survey results:
visit Acuvue.