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Local Eye MDs provide tips to steer safely through winter’s dark & snow

March 1, 2013

Most people dislike driving at night, and the reason is simple—you can't see as far or as well as you can during the day. Darkness makes driving a challenge; snow compounds the problem. The doctors at Eye Care Specialists ophthalmology practice offer the following facts and tips to keep you and your vehicle safer on the road.

The Vehicle

* “Keep your head and tail lights clean. If you aren't washing the whole car, occasionally use a damp cloth or sponge to remove the film of dust and dirt that accumulates on the lenses. The better you can see and be seen, the better your chances of avoiding a crash. In winter, make sure they are clear of snow and ice,” notes Mark Freedman, an ophthalmologist with 25 years of experience.

* Keep your windshield clean inside and out. Dirty streaks will seem even worse in the glare of oncoming lights. Take the time to scrape the windows—don't rely on just your defroster and wipers to do the trick. Ice can quickly build up and drag back and forth, reducing your visibility to tiny open patches of light.

* Several times a year, have someone stand outside of the car to check that all lights and turn signals are operating properly.


The Driver

* “Problems with glare and seeing to drive at night usually start in your early 50s. The average 60-year-old needs seven times as much light as a 20-year-old to perform the same task. Older adults also experience a reduction in reaction time. These facts, however, can be counterbalanced by the years of experience spent behind the wheel, as well as an alert mind to surroundings,” reports local eye surgeon Dr. Daniel Ferguson.

* Don't wear sunglasses at night to try to reduce glare. Any lens that reduces the brightness of headlights also reduces the lights reflected from dimly lit objects at the side of the road, particularly pedestrians.

* Don't drink and drive. Besides obvious reasons, alcohol can drastically slow visual recovery from glare.

Tips & Techniques

* Head of Ophthalmology at Aurora Sinai Medical Center Dr. Brett Rhode advises, “If you're wondering whether or not it's dark enough to turn on your lights . . . it is. They may not help you see any better, but they will make it easier to see you—thus reducing the chance of an accident.”

* Since you can't see as well at night, you have less time to stop when you spot trouble as you would in daylight. Reduce your speed accordingly.

* Never flash your brights at oncoming drivers who fail to switch to low beams. Switch your own lights to low, and then avoid the approaching glare by looking at the right edge of the road and using it as a guide.

Look Ahead

* “When you look ahead, don't look only as far as your headlights light up the pavement. This habit limits your visual range. Instead, peer ahead into the area that is only faintly illuminated. You may pick up the faint glow of a distant headlight or some movement that will alert you to a possible hazard,” suggests Dr. Daniel Paskowitz, an ophthalmologist with credentials from Harvard and Johns Hopkins.

* Take curves slower at night. Since your headlights are pointing straight ahead off of the road, your view of the curve is considerably reduced.

Be Aware of Any Limitations Caused by Eye Diseases

* According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, people who have cataracts are twice as likely to have a car accident as people who have their cataracts removed and replaced with an artificial lens implant. (A cataract is a painless, progressive clouding of the natural lens inside the eye that blocks the passage of light needed for vision. The condition is common in older adults, affecting about 60 percent of Americans over age of 60. If the clouding becomes advanced enough, it can cause significant blurring and glare that may make driving dangerous.)

* Cataracts aren’t the only eye condition that can increase car crash risks. Another study noted glaucoma patients age 50+ were six times as likely to have been involved in a motor vehicle accident in the previous five years as were members of control groups. They were also more likely to be at fault when a collision did occur. Why? Because glaucoma can damage the optic nerve, which may lead to potentially dangerous narrowing of the visual field or ‘tunnel vision.

Have Regular Eye & Health Exams

* “Regular eye exams are important for protecting your vision and the safety of you, your passengers, and fellow travelers on the road. Don't jeopardize anyone's safety or the privilege of owning a driver's license by driving with vision that is worse than the legal limit. Your eye doctor will let you know if all you need is a stronger prescription, medication, surgery, or some other form of treatment to continue safely enjoying driving,” states Dr. David Scheidt, past president of the Milwaukee Optometric Society.

* Keep up with your regular doctor appointments and health screenings. Treatment of chronic diseases and conditions that cause functional impairments (difficulty turning your head, slow reaction times, etc.) are another way to reduce accident rates. You should also review with your doctor and/or pharmacist the effects of any medications on your driving ability.

Free educational booklets & information
The physicians quoted above are partners at Eye Care Specialists, a leading ophthalmology practice that provides comprehensive medical, surgical and laser care for virtually every eye condition to more than 121,000 southeastern Wisconsinites. They specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of glaucoma, diabetic eye disease, AMD and cataracts, and have written a series of booklets on these conditions. Call 414-321-7035 for FREE copies or to schedule an appointment for a thorough eye exam (usually covered by insurance or Medicare) at their offices in Wauwatosa, West Allis, and downtown Milwaukee. They can also be found at www.eyecarespecialists.net.

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