Glaucoma and driving: a guide for patients

Can a patient drive if they have glaucoma? The answer isn’t always no. It depends on whether the condition is in its early or late stages.

Age is a risk factor for glaucoma, with the over 60s being most at-risk. This is a time of life when some people may fear losing their licence. But being diagnosed with glaucoma (or elevated eye pressure) doesn’t necessarily mean someone has to give up driving.

Early screening is key here, as glaucoma doesn’t present any symptoms in the early stages. The earlier a person is screened for glaucoma, the quicker they can begin treatment, which can stall the condition and protect against sight loss. The Glaucoma Research Foundation recommends regular eye examinations for those over the age of 40. Eyes should be tested:

  • Up to the age of 40 – every 2 to 4 years
  • 40 to 54 – every 1 to 3 years
  • 55 to 64 – every 1 to 2 years
  • 65 years and older – every six to 12 months

Vehicle licencing and glaucoma

If a patient is found to have glaucoma, they need to report this to their vehicle licencing authority (DMV in the USA or DVLA in the UK, for example). Each authority will have different rules, but generally speaking, they will ask a patient to come in for a further sight test. In most cases, they will have to read a vision chart or undertake a visual field test.

The DVLA in the UK uses two visual standards to assess a driver’s safety – visual acuity and visual field. When a patient informs the DVLA of a glaucoma diagnosis they will be asked to visit an approved centre for a test.

To pass the visual acuity standard a driver must have a score of at least 6/12, meaning they can see at six metres what someone with normal vision can see at 12 metres. They should also be able to read a car registration plate at 20 metres.

The visual field test assesses a person’s peripheral vision and central vision – a driver should have ‘good’ peripheral vision and no defect in the central vision.

These two results are then examined and the DVLA will make a decision as to whether the patient is safe to drive. Whilst this process can be scary for a patient, 9 out of 10 people who report their glaucoma diagnosis to the DVLA keep their licence.

Preserving sight and driving with glaucoma

With glaucoma being symptomless in its earliest stages, a patient with the condition may not necessarily have impaired vision. This means that a patient can continue to drive, but only with regular screening and the right treatment.

Adherence to treatment can improve a person’s chances of keeping their licence. Many patients lose more vision than they should because they stop taking their eye drops. When a patient begins treatment, an eye care professional or pharmacist should teach them how to correctly administer drops. Many patients needlessly lose their vision because they allow the drops to roll down their cheeks, rather than making sure they stay in their eye. It sounds obvious, but it is a mistake many people make without realising the consequences.

What is also important to remember about glaucoma is that it affects the peripheral vision in the early stages, and the central vision is damaged when the condition is advanced. If the central vision is damaged then a person will definitely not be able to drive a car – more reason for them to have regular screenings and adhere to treatment.

Insurance and glaucoma

Lastly, there are insurance implications with a diagnosis of glaucoma. Patients must inform their insurer of the condition. Insurers will not usually refuse insurance but it may cost more post-diagnosis. Failure to inform insurance companies of a glaucoma diagnosis may render any future claim invalid.

Early screening, adherence to treatment and regular monitoring

If a patient wants to keep their licence then they will be keen to attend regular eye checks and keep to their treatment programme. Educating a patient on the importance of these two factors will mean they keep driving and maintain a good quality of life.

To learn more read our post on glaucoma and adherence to treatment, or download our free whitepaper on glaucoma treatments