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Eyes On The Road

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It is important to go for annual eye check-ups to screen for vision problems that can jeopardise your driving.

Having sound vision is critical for safe driving as most of the important decisions made by motorists are based on sight. Visual acuity enables motorists to identify road hazards, read signs and see the dashboard, among other things.

In Singapore, every driver must meet a minimum standard of visual acuity. Class 1 to 3 driving licence holders (except taxis) are required to have visual acuity of at least 6/12 in one eye. If the weaker eye has a visual acuity of less than 6/36, or if the person has monocular vision, his horizontal field of vision must be tested. You also need to be able to distinguish the colours red, amber and green from a distance of 25m.

Among the eye conditions that can affect your ability to see clearly are glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.

Glaucoma occurs when fluid builds up in the front part of the eye. The extra fluid increases the pressure in the eye, damaging the optic nerve. Glaucoma sufferers often have problems with glare, night driving, and low-contrast situations. Treatment depends on the type of glaucoma. While there is no viable cure for the condition, medication or surgery coupled with ongoing treatment can help prevent further loss of sight for those who have already suffered a deterioration in eyesight.

Cataracts cause the lens to become opaque, leading to blurred vision, glare and halos around lights as the condition progresses. Cataracts can affect your performance behind the wheel, making it harder to see well at night, in bad weather, or low light conditions. Cataracts can be removed only with surgery.

Macular degeneration can cause distortion in your central field of vision, which makes objects appear less sharp and defined. Those afflicted may have difficulty seeing road signs, pedestrians, and objects on the road. Age-related macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss, especially in those over 60. While no cure exists for the condition, treatments can slow down the disease and prevent a severe loss of vision.

Diabetic retinopathy is a disease in which high blood sugar levels damage blood vessels in the retina, stealing both central and peripheral vision. Symptoms include blurred vision, impaired colour vision, or blank spots in your vision. Each of these effects will have an impact on your driving, so diagnosis and treatment are very important if you wish to continue to drive safely and legally. Besides controlling your blood pressure and blood sugar, treatment options for diabetic retinopathy include medication and laser surgery.

As degenerative eye disease develops slowly, you may not realise the gradual changes in your vision. It is best to go for yearly eye check-ups to prevent vision challenges from getting in the way of your driving.