Optometry Australia has welcomed news of a dedicated driving simulator that will be used in the US to investigate how eye diseases, such as glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration, alter a person’s visual performance and ability to drive well and safely. The high-fidelity, highly realistic simulator could also be used to train people in how to compensate for skills diminished by age or disease.
The University of California, San Diego School of Medicine is America’s first ophthalmology department to install the fully dedicated high-fidelity, highly realistic driving simulator.
Drivers sit in the cabin of an actual Ford Fusion (in Australia known as a Ford Mondeo) which has been mounted on a motion platform. They look out onto a realistic cityscape with road and traffic projected on large-screen panels covering a 180-degree field of view. The scenes interactively respond to the driver’s changes in direction and speed. Three adjustable rear-view mirrors display images of what would be visible behind the vehicle.
The simulator responds realistically in response to acceleration, braking and road conditions. It can be used to test driving skills under conditions that would in reality be too dangerous to test, keeping track of a driver’s ability to maintain lane position, follow behind another car on a windy road, negotiate a curve and detect and avoid hazards, such as pedestrians crossing a street. The simulator can also recreate night driving and driving in heavy fog.
There are people who are driving who should not be.
Because the simulator can be used to measure changes over time, the progression of different eye conditions and their impact on visual performance and driving can be studied.
“One of the purposes of the simulator is to try to better evaluate and determine who is at higher risk for becoming impaired in their ability to perform everyday tasks,” said Felipe A. Medeiros, Professor of Ophthalmology and the Ben and Wanda Hildyard Chair for Diseases of the Eye. “Those at higher risk may need to be treated more aggressively, whereas those at lower risk may be treated more conservatively.
“We know that standard visual acuity or visual field tests may not provide enough information to evaluate whether a person is capable of driving safely,” said Professor Medeiros. “The driving simulator will allow
us to assess visual performance in a realistic and demanding scenario, providing a much better evaluation of the impact of eye diseases on driving fitness.
“There are people who are driving who should not be and there are people who aren’t driving but could safely. The research on the new driving simulator will help us identify those at higher risk for being involved in crashes and provide better guidance to patients and interested parties.”
“There is evidence suggesting that about 50 per cent of motor vehicle collisions are caused by deficits in the ability to process visual information and allocate attention while driving. We may be able to train people to
get better on how to perform these tasks,” said Professor Medeiros.
Jared Slater, National Professional Services Manager at Optometry Australia said any research that identified people at greater risk of being involved in crashes or helped those at risk avoid accidents would be welcomed.
He said ensuring Australian drivers are safe on the road as they age is particularly difficult because different states and territories have their own requirements when it comes to testing vision.
“Each state and territory has specific requirements for medical examinations or road testing, depending on the driver’s age or the type of vehicle being driven. This also applies to the assessment of vision and differs across jurisdictions. Currently some jurisdictions have a vision test at the driver licensing authority upon initial application, while others do not. Some require annual medicals, including a vision test annually
at either 70, 75, or 80 years of age.
“It is the view of Optometry Australia that at a minimum, all drivers should be required to have some form of evidence at licence renewal after 75 years of age stating they meet the vision standards to hold a licence. This should be from an optometrist or a medical practitioner. This reflects that older drivers are more at risk of being killed or seriously injured on our roads and we believe this position addresses the issue of increased prevalence of eye disease with age, would be relatively simple to administer and promotes good road safety. Of course, drivers of any age with an identified eye health condition that may progress or potentially impact their ability to drive require ongoing eye health and vision review as necessary, either by
an optometrist or a medical practitioner.”