What to Know About Driving With Bioptic Lenses

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on June 26, 2022
5 min read

If you want to continue driving with low vision, you can consider using bioptic lenses to make sure that having less-than-perfect eyesight does not hamper your ability to drive. 

Of course, driving is a very critical function, and you should check with your doctor and your local licensing agency whether using bioptic lenses can help you qualify to drive.

Bioptic lenses, also called bioptic telescopic lenses or more informally known as bioptics, are a pair of lenses that are used to improve vision. These are miniature binoculars that help people who have challenges with their vision see more clearly.

These can be attached to your regular eyeglasses and can be used either for one or both of your eyes. Just like binoculars, bioptic lenses make images larger than they are and help you see things more easily.

One of the main benefits of these lenses is that they help you see things that are much farther away. To cite an example, if your normal vision allows you to see only up to ten feet away, a bioptic lens that has a 4x power can help you see clearly up to distances of about 40 feet.

Bioptics consist of two lenses with one or two telescopes that are fixed to your existing set of eyeglasses. The telescope is fixed a little above your usual line of sight. These lenses help you see road signs and traffic lights that are at a distance that you would usually not be able to see.

This typically requires you to tilt your head slightly downward or move your eyes a little higher which brings the bioptics in your line of sight and improves your vision. Bioptics are generally prescribed by a licensed optometrist or an ophthalmologist.

The World Health Organization has grouped visual limitations based on visual acuity. For example, a 20/60 visual acuity means that you would have to stand at 20 feet to see what a person with normal vision can see at 60 feet.

If your visual acuity is between 20/60 and 20/200, it’s classified as low vision, while anything less than 20/400 is classified as blindness.

In several countries, driving is one of the most convenient ways to travel from one point to another. It also improves people-to-people engagement and gives you a sense of freedom while not being dependent on other people or modes of transport.

Many countries have strict guidelines when it comes to driver’s vision to prevent accidents and one of the things that licensing agencies look at is the strength of your vision. Agencies typically don’t give out driving licenses to people with less than 20/40 vision, although this may vary.

Drivers have to abide by these guidelines and one of the ways to qualify for a license if you have poor vision is to use bioptics when you drive.

If you have less than perfect vision but don’t want to give up on the freedom that driving your car gives you, you may choose a bioptic lens that can enhance your vision and help you qualify for a driver’s license. This is especially helpful for older people who often have to depend on others if they wish to go out.

If you’re planning to use bioptics to help you drive, know that you’ll be looking through them for around 90 to 95% of your overall driving time, which is a considerable amount.

You’ll usually need to look through the telescope repeatedly for a fraction of a second to make out specific colors and to identify road signs, traffic lights, pedestrians, and other vehicles in your surroundings.

The bioptics come into play when the car is moving through the straighter sections of the roads and when other objects are at a distance of at least 20 feet. You will have to look through your main eyeglasses, also known as the “carrier” lenses, since the bioptics are fixed on them.

If you’ve not used bioptics before, you may take some time to get used to them. This is because viewing through the miniature magnifying system of the bioptics requires a specific movement that involves synchronization between your head and eye that’s known as a “vertical drop.”

New users usually face two challenges. One is that you may have a sense that some objects in your visual field are moving even though they aren’t. The second is the disorientation caused by the moving objects in your field of vision when you look through the telescopes which may take some getting used to.

It’s essential for people who have just started to use bioptics to get used to both the stationary and moving conditions to make the best use of the lenses while driving.

Drivers in most U.S. states need to be trained to qualify for a license that is typically given by a licensing agency. Some states have a six-week program where you practice for around 90 hours. 

This includes a combination of theoretical instructions in a classroom environment and in a car, as well as an on-road driving instruction on how to use your bioptic telescopic lenses for driving.

You may also have to complete an 80-minute driving evaluation during which you’ll cover roughly 40 miles across multiple terrains and different conditions such as sunny, rainy, light, and heavy traffic.

Research indicates that once drivers with low vision are trained and licensed to drive with the help of bioptics, there is not much difference in the incidences of traffic violations or accidents between such drivers and those who drive without bioptic lenses.

Bioptic lenses can help you retain the independence that driving your own car gives you. Keep in mind that you’ll need some training, though, to make the best use of these lenses.

You’ll also need to be aware of the regulations in your specific region to know if you can qualify to drive with bioptic lenses with your current vision. One of the things you’ll need to check is the minimum level of visual acuity to qualify to drive with bioptic lenses.

While many states in the U.S. give licenses to people with visual acuity as low as 20/200, regulations in other states may differ. It’s best to check with your local licensing agency to know where you stand.