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Overview of the California DMV’s Vision Standards for Driving

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Why is the California DMV concerned about my vision?

Any person who holds a driver license in the State of California is constantly being monitored by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).  As we move through our driving lives, the DMV wants to be assured that we all maintain the Skill, the Knowledge and the Physical/Mental Fitness to drive.

One of the most prevalent concerns for the DMV is a person’s ability to see adequately enough to operate a motor vehicle.  Driving requires a broad set of skills that are often put into play at same time.  Vision, comprehension, hearing, perception/reaction times and many more issues are the hallmark of a safe driver.

What are the Vision Standards at the DMV?

California Vehicle Code Section 12804.1(a)(1)(e), empowers the California DMV to subject all drivers to a vision examination to ensure they meet the minimum standards necessary to drive in the State of California.

Any person who holds a driver license in the State of California is subject to vision testing to establish their visual fitness to drive.  The DMV’s basic screening standard is:

  • 20/40 visual acuity in both eyes when tested together, and
  • A minimum of 20/40 in one eye with the other eye at a minimum of 20/70.

When assessing a driver’s vision, the DMV will consider the following areas:

  • Visual Perception: Visual Perception is how your brain processes what you see.  If one’s Visual Perception is impaired by anything, it can affect their ability to switch attention to other events without experiencing blurred or clustered vision. It can also affect the ability to distinguish between foreground and background, known as depth perception.
  • Visual Acuity: The ability to perceive the position of vehicles and the detail of roadway signs or pedestrians in relation to themselves.  Visual Acuity, also known as “central vision” is the ability of a driver to ascertain detail in what they see.  If one’s Visual Acuity is impaired by anything, it can affect their ability to read and ascertain the meaning of road signs or hazards.
  • Peripheral Vision: The largest percentage of what we see is what occurs directly in front of us.  Peripheral  Vision, also known as “side vision”, is the field of view that surrounds our central vision field.  When a driver with healthy peripheral vision detects hazards or changing traffic patterns in their side view, they will use head or eye movements to bring the image into their central view.  If one’s peripheral vision is impaired, it can affect their ability to detect and react to a hazard approaching from the left or right.  It may affect their ability to see and react to a suspended traffic light or can cause them to drive too closely to parked cars.
  • Glare: Glare most commonly affects a driver’s ability to see when bright lights of on-coming traffic shine into that person’s face; or when they are driving directly into the sun.  This can have a dramatic impact on one’s ability to see what is directly in front of them.
  • Glare Resistance is the ability of a driver to still see critical objects and events while facing a steady source of light.
  • Glare Recovery is the amount of time necessary for a driver’s vision to return to normal after encountering glare.

If a driver’s Glare Resistance or Glare Recovery are impaired by anything, this can result in the driver being temporarily blinded which could result is a devasting traffic collision.

  • Night Vision: Driving at night requires that a driver not only be able to see in diminished light conditions but, must also be able to low-contrast objects.  Pedestrians wearing dark clothing at night are particularly vulnerable because it can be difficult to differentiate between a darkly clad person against a dark background.  If a driver’s night vision is impaired by anything, this can result in the driver not seeing pedestrians, bicyclists or curves in the roadway.
  • Judgement of Distance: Judgement of Distance is often known as “Spatial Awareness.”  Spatial awareness refers to one’s ability to be aware of objects in space and  position in relation to the driver’s vehicle.  If a driver’s Judgement of Distance is affected by anything, it can cause a driver to stop too short of a limit line.  It can cause problems maintaining appropriate speed or the distance between vehicles.
  • Eye Movement: Eye movement relates to the normal movement and function of the eyes enabling a driver to scan in all directions.  If a driver’s eye movement is affected by anything, it can cause a driver to focus too long on a specific item while roadway conditions are changing.  The driver may fail to react to hazards. He may fail to heed traffic signs and signals and, may have difficulty changing lanes.

How do I prove that my vision is good enough for driving?

All new applicants for driver license must establish adequate vision by taking a “vision test.”  Normally this entails the driver reading letters from an eye chart.  The test is performed with both eyes and then individually.  The wall chart will be situated 20 feet from where you are standing.  If you have difficulty reading the chart, the DMV will then have you take another vision test using a vision testing machine, called an Optec 1000.

If you fail the vision test or, if the DMV suspects you may have a medical disorder that affects your driving, you must be examined by a vision doctor (Ophthalmologist/Optometrist).  The doctor will document his findings using an approved DMV vision form.  The Report of Vision Examination (Form DL62), is the way your physician explains that although you may have diminished vision, you are still safe to drive.

What can I do if the DMV refuses to issue me a driver license because of a vision issue?

There are many, many things that can be done to get you back on the road, even if you have a vision disorder.  In some instances, you may be entitled to an Administrative Hearing to prove your fitness to drive.  In some instances, you may qualify for a “restricted” license that would prohibit driving at night or on the freeway.

Vision issues can be complicated, and it is always best to have guidance when dealing with the DMV.  If your vision is causing the DMV to refuse to issue you a driver license or, if they have suspended an existing license, don’t despair; we can help. Call CDA for a free consultation.

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