New study shows cataract surgery improves driving safety

By Yicong Yang

Although alcohol, speeding, and distracted driving are the major sources of injuries and fatalities on the road, being able to see well cannot be underestimated. As drivers age, the occurrence of cataracts increases, and they can be a significant barrier to safe driving. A new study examines how cataract surgery decreases crash rates.

Researchers in Australia used a driving simulator to test patients’ driving performance before and after cataract surgery. They found that near misses and crashes decreased by 35 percent after the first eye surgery, and the number fell by 48 percent after the surgery on the second eye. This research, recently presented at the American Academy of Ophthalmology Annual Meeting, highlights the importance of timely cataract surgery for older adult drivers.

The research also provides useful information to transportation professionals. Eyesight is often tested when a driver’s license is up for renewal. However, some eye conditions may not be caught or may be  underestimated as part of the license renewal process. Cataracts can especially affect night vision, and studies have found that licensing vision tests often do not accurately assess ability to see at night. Other conditions that are often not caught by driver licensing tests are age-related macular degeneration,  diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma.

As the aging population continues to grow, an increasing number of drivers will develop cataracts that pose a barrier to safe and comfortable driving. Both transportation and health professionals need to understand more about aging-related risk factors for safe driving, such as cataracts. Private cars are still important to older adults’ mobility and independence. Safety guidance, mobility support, and timely healthcare can help older drivers know when health and vision issues threaten their safety and that of others.

Yicong Yang is a Project Assistant at SSTI.