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Visually Impaired? Pennsylvania to launch new program allowing visually impaired residents to obtain drivers license

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By Q Hubo News Team

PennDOT announced a new program to provide more independence to those who are visually impaired, allowing them to operate a motorized vehicle. These new measures come into play by allowing visually impaired individuals to use the so called “bioptic telescope lenses”. “Previous research on bioptic drivers suggests that a bioptic license strongly enhances life satisfaction including employment options. However, the driving safety and performance of bioptic drivers have not been extensively studied, and as a result there are many unanswered questions.10 A few studies have examined motor vehicle collisions among bioptic drivers.”((Cynthia Owsley, Gerald McGwin, Jennifer Elgin, Joanne M. Wood). While there is more research to be done on the effectiveness of the bioptic telescope lenses, there has been enough research to back up it’s use. Each state has their own rules on the use of this lenses. According to the press release by the state of Pennsylvania, these lenses are allowed in 46 other states. The law was signed by Governor Wolf and put into effect September 27th.

“The majority (74%) rated the bioptic telescope as very helpful, and almost all (90%) would continue to use it for driving, even if it were not required for driving licensure; however, only 62% reported always wearing the bioptic when driving. Subjects had relatively unrestricted driving habits, driving a mean of 222 ± 211 miles per week, and 85% aged ≤65 years drove to work. With the exception of driving in rain, in bright sunlight, and at night, there was little difficulty with driving in a variety of situations, and levels of driving avoidance due to vision impairment were low (<10%).” (Alex R. Bowers, Doris H. Apfelbaum, Eli Peli). We will have to wait and see how this law will change over time, as another research shows that only 62% of participants reported always using these lenses when driving.

The state did provide a list of requirements for a visually impaired person to be able to obtain a drivers license, the list goes as follow:

  • Pass a complete vision examination completed by an optometrist or ophthalmologist; 
  • Have possessed a Bioptic Telescope Lens for at least 3 months; 
  • Undergo a minimum of 10 hours of front seat passenger-in-car instruction with a Low-Vision Rehabilitation Professional; and 
  • Provide the Department a letter of enrollment with a PennDOT approved Certified Driving Instructor (CDI) or Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (CDRS).  

The list, provided by the press release, shows that the process won’t be a simple one. Once we have more drivers who use these lenses to operate a vehicle we will be able to track more of their effectiveness and hoping our communities keep safe and now with the ability to thrive due to the ability of visually impaired individuals to be more productive members of the community.


(Cynthia Owsley, Gerald McGwin, Jennifer Elgin, Joanne M. Wood; Visually Impaired Drivers Who Use Bioptic Telescopes: Self-Assessed Driving Skills and Agreement With On-Road Driving Evaluation. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2014;55(1):330-336. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/iovs.13-13520.)

Alex R. Bowers, Doris H. Apfelbaum, Eli Peli; Bioptic Telescopes Meet the Needs of Drivers with Moderate Visual Acuity Loss. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2005;46(1):66-74. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/iovs.04-0271.

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