By Winnie Were Wanzetse
The world famous quote by Helen Keller ‘The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision’ quite sums up our narrative about driving blind. Whereas vision may stand for foresight in the context of her quote, the same sentiment can be applied on the road. Driving blind is not only about having good eyesight but having clear vision of the road ahead, behind and around you borne of a sound body and mind. The main contraindications for driving blind are poor eyesight, fatigue/ drowsiness, injury, overall darkness and poor weather conditions.
A recent study indicates that in Kenya, road traffic accidents account for 59.6 injuries and 28.2 deaths per 100,000 population. A 2014 study involving vision assessment of public service drivers in Nairobi in 2014 discovered that a significant proportion of drivers who have been involved in an accident also had cataracts. It is assumed that in cases where driving is a source of income, most of the people might continue driving despite experiencing visual difficulties, if only to safeguard their jobs.
Kenya’s (revised, 2012) Traffic Act requires that every driver of a public service or commercial vehicle undergo and pass a physical (medical) test (which includes vision and hearing) before the license is renewed. The same requirement is replicated in Kenya’s new health policy framework (2014–2030).
But do you know the required visual acuity (aided with lenses or unaided) qualified as fit for driving?
• Two normal eyes which are aligned (no strabismus), freely moving and able to identify images as one (no double vision)
• Visual acuity of at least 6/9 in the best eye and at least 6/60 in the other eye
• Normal visual fields.
The eye examination cannot be carried out by a registered eye health professional e.g. an ophthalmologist, ophthalmic clinical officer, cataract surgeon or ophthalmic nurse. An eye examination will not just test your vision but it can also find health related problems such as cataracts, age related macular degeneration and even risks of cancer.
Poor vision reduces your performance on the road by almost 80%. How? Consider an extremely short-sighted driver approaching a sharp bend. Much as there may be signage showing the sharp bend, the driver may miss it owing to their visual impairment, a mistake that might prove fatal or injurious.
There exist a range of interventions for faulty eyesight including wearing spectacles or contact lenses and use of corrective laser eye surgery, of course at the discretion of the consulting medical practitioner. Make sure to get tested and have your vision boosted in case of any defects.
Driving at night
People driving at night face an increased risk of becoming involved in an accident than when driving during the day time. The dangers range from poor vision (poor eyesight is escalated when darkness sets in), glare from other motorists’ cars, poorly lit roads or careless pedestrians (not visible or poor estimation of distance) or animals. Judgement of distance and speed of oncoming cars is also compromised when it is dark.
Today there exist night vision goggles/ glasses that help to combat the glare from oncoming traffic at night. It is also safer to drive slightly slower than usual to allow ample reaction time in case of emergency.
Driver fatigue/ illness
After a long day it is natural for motorists to feel exhausted and, therefore, drowsy while driving at night. If you feel the slightest hint of drowsiness while driving, pull over and take a break. Alternatively, you can always sleep on the idea of driving and start early the next morning. Arrive alive!