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A presentation, Driving With Low Vision


The following information is excerpted from a presentation give by Dr Dennis Kelleher at the 1996 NOAH Conference in San Jose, California.  Dr. Kelleher has written many papers on BiOptic Driving.  Click here for a bibliography of his papers.  [25.3 Kb PDF format]   A comprehensive bibliography on the subject is available by clicking here.


Dennis was the first person licensed to drive in California using a BiOptic in March 1971. Since then he has driven in all types of conditions compiling a better than average driving record. He received his Doctorate in Education in 1972 from UC Berkeley. He has taught many low vision courses at the college level including the UC School of Optometry and has written over 17 articles published in professional journals on various topics in low vision. He served on the California DMV drivers license advisory board from 1975 to 1983.


Visual Factors in Driving Safety:

  • Static Visual Acuity (screening standard 20/40 in most states)

  • Dynamic Visual Acuity

  • Visual Fields (130 degrees) & effects of speed blur

  • Color Perception

  • Depth Perception, monocular vs. binocular

  • Contrast Sensitivity, Glare Recovery & Luminance

Research has established that normally sighted drivers do not resolve details on a continuous basis at 20/20 acuity while driving, but as a response to low resolution stimuli. The common 20/40 screening standard is not the same as a rejection criteria because DMV vision tests are based on what is reasonable, not on what has been proven absolutely necessary for safe operation of a motor vehicle. The greater the deviation, the more the safety margin is reduced. Not all persons with low vision are able to drive. Driving is certainly not for everyone, even those low vision persons who meet the above criteria and may be able to drive, but don't have a desire to do so. DRIVING WITH LOW VISION, WITH OR WITHOUT BIOPTICS IS A VERY PERSONAL DECISION THAT SHOULD BE MADE COLLABORATIVELY BY THE INDIVIDUAL, THE EYE SPECIALIST AND THE LICENSING AGENCY.


Non Visual Factors in Driving Safety


Research has established that drivers who are more likely to be involved in an accident are those who are:

  • impulsive, emotionally unstable, overly aggressive & angry

  • inattentive and have slow reaction time

  • substance abusers & risk takers

  • Inexperienced or new drivers

  • teenagers and those over age 75

  • health impaired with respect to mobility, hearing or vision

1994 California DMV BiOptic Study


Persons with any medical disorders tend to have more traffic accidents than those without them, but also have fewer citations. A study by California DMV in 1994 was conducted on 669 BiOptic drivers. The BiOptic group was composed of 71% males with an average age of 46. In comparison to the control group, the BiOptic group's accident rate was 1.5 times higher than the control group, but the citation rate was one third lower than the control group. These findings are consistent with the BiOptic study done by the California DMV in 1983. Other sub groups with medical disorders such as persons with hearing loss, seizure disorders and orthopedic impairments had an accident rates up to 2 times higher than the BiOptic driver group. The study concluded that the BiOptic group did not pose an unacceptable high risk and license restrictions for BiOptic drivers are appropriate. Considered restrictions included:

  • geographic area

  • specific hours of the day

  • specific familiar roads & routes

  • specific vehicle using special equipment or devices

  • more frequent and rigorous testing by the licensing agency

General Prerequisites in California for licensing using a BiOptic

  1. Visual fields of approximately 130 degrees

  2. A stable vision condition preferably of long duration absent of other problems

  3. Adequate (20/40) central acuity through the BiOptic and no less than 20/200 through the standard carrier lens

  4. Ability to differentiate color

  5. Ability to track objects through eye movements, head and neck coordination

  6. Need to drive for employment or independence



Common Concerns regarding the use of the BiOptic

  1. Small visual field through the BiOptic telescope

  2. Ring scotoma causing a hazardous blind spot

  3. Vibration and speed blur

  4. Telescopic parallax and depth perception

  5. Using the BiOptic with mirrors

  6. Critical adjustment of the BiOptic frame and angle of the lens

Using the BiOptic telescope

  1. BiOptics are used as a spotting device, intermittently during driving, never constantly.

  2. The amount one spots through the BiOptic varies depending on the type of driving.

  3. Generally the faster one is going, the more often the BiOptic will be used.

  4. A majority of the driving task will be done using the vision through the carrier lens.

  5. Maximizing eye movement instead of head movement will decrease response time.


  1. Rapidly locate stationary objects while you are still

  2. Rapidly locate moving objects while you are still

  3. Rapidly locate moving objects while you are moving (preferably as a passenger in a car)

  4. Develop accurate visual perception skills to evaluate the environment rapidly

Defensive Driving Habits

  • Keep your eyes moving and be alert

  • See the whole picture and anticipate what they other driver will do in advance

  • Be sure you are seen

  • Follow at a safe distance (four second rule)

  • Be sure you have an escape route as a last resort

  • Be prepared by knowing where you are going in advance

  • Use other aids as necessary (hats, visors, tinted lenses, magnifiers etc.)

Driver Skills

  • Vehicle speed control, shifting and braking

  • Depth and spatial perception

  • Steering

  • Use of Mirrors

  • Backing up and parking

  • Knowledge of rules of the road and courtesy

  • Compensation for low vision (practice announcing what you must react to)

To see a detailed MS PowerPoint presentation given by Dr. Dennis Kelleher on factors concerning driving with BiOptic Telescopic Systems, click here. (687 Kb)


- Dennis Kelleher, Ed.D


Special Education Consultant, Office of the Director, Special Education Division California Department of Education 428 J Street, Suite 550 Sacramento, CA 95814 916-327-0842 Voice 916-445-4550 FAX



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