By Philip Ritchie
An amendment to the guide outlining the medical requirements to drive a motor vehicle has switched its nationwide position on visual aids.
When Assessing Fitness to Drive, a joint publication by Austroads and the National Transport Commission designed for health professionals and driver-licensing authorities, was released in September 2016, there was uncertainty surrounding the emerging technology.
While visual aids could boost depth of vision, there was concern some aids may be to the detriment of patients’ peripheral vision. Drivers relying on some visual aids were not considered to meet the standard.
The amendment, which came into effect on 1 August 2017, now allows people relying on visual aids to drive both commercial and private vehicles. However, the guide recommends that to ensure that they’re fit to drive safely and monitor their surroundings, anyone using visual aids must see an optometrist or an ophthalmologist before they drive.
According to the changes, visual aids that should be assessed include telescopic lenses, bioptic telescopes and electronic aids. The policy could see another change when the technology is better understood.
‘It is important that any patient who is driving with telescopic lenses or visual aids have their visual field assessed to ensure they meet safe driving standards,’ Optometry Australia’s national policy adviser, Simon Hanna, said.
While the impact of visual aids on drivers remains inconsistent, the shift to a case-by-case basis, rather than an all-in-one stance, is a much fairer option for people slightly or unaffected by peripheral vision loss.
The section which covers such visual aids, 10.2.7, originally read ‘these devices may improve acuity at the cost of visual field. They are not an acceptable aid to meet the standards.’
With the amendment, it now reads: ‘These devices are becoming available in Australia. At present there is little information on the safety or otherwise of drivers using these devices. In particular, their use may reduce visual perception in the periphery. No standards are set but it is recommended that drivers who wish to use these devices be individually assessed by an ophthalmologist or optometrist with expertise in the use of these devices.’