What You Need to Know about Bifocals and Driving

Bifocal glasses are a common style of corrective lenses that help combat vision changes that come with age. As you get older, it becomes more difficult for your eyes to focus on close objects. Bifocals are great corrective tools for this since they include two prescription vision strengths on each lens. But, how easy is it to drive with bifocals?

There are a few things you need to know about bifocals and driving. Making the switch from single-vision lenses to bifocals takes time. The measurements must be precise, and your eyes will not adjust immediately. However, bifocals are great for driving if your Add value is not higher than 1.5D.

Because then a blurry gap gets formed in front of you. But more on this later in the illustrations.

Bifocals allow wearers to switch from different vision strengths depending on where their eyes are positioned. Objects further away are seen through the top of the lens by looking ahead. Closer objects are seen through the stronger bottom prescription. Read on to learn how this combination makes bifocals the perfect driving lenses.

Depending on the reading power you need (Add value) bifocals allow you to focus in different distances when you look through the reading segment. Therefore I made you a few illustrations you can better understand what happens with the reading segment when the Add value changes.

Presbyopia and Driving: Why You Need Bifocals

Presbyopia is the name of the condition that causes farsightedness as people age. It happens to nearly everyone, but that does not make it any less frustrating. As people get older, the lenses of their eyes become less elastic, and their eye muscles become weaker.

Presbyopia results in objects close by appearing blurry, distorted, and hard to see. While this may not always be a problem, it is a major one while driving as soon as you want to focus on the dashboard. When your presbyopia is higher the reading support (Add value) needs to be higher so you can read at a close-up distance.

Symptoms of Presbyopia

You usually begin to notice these symptoms when you reach your early- to mid-forties. At that age, you have a lot of driving left in them, and it is scary when you cannot see everything right in front of you. It is important to understand presbyopia symptoms to understand how they affect driving and how bifocals can help. Some symptoms are:

  • Headaches or eye-strain after reading
  • Headaches or eye-strain after working on a computer
  • Headaches or eye-strain after doing close-up, precision work
  • Being unable to read at a normal distance
  • Having to move reading materials, phones, computer screens, etc. further away to read them clearly

Complications While Driving

These symptoms have huge implications on someone’s ability to drive. If driving were only looking straight ahead at the horizon, they might not be such a big deal. Unfortunately, there is a lot more to driving than that. The following simple but crucial tasks can become impossible without being able to see nearby objects clearly:

  • Checking your speedometer and fuel gauge
  • Trouble looking at the route guidance system

Thankfully, this is exactly what multifocal lenses were created to correct. Bifocals feature two different prescription strengths, one at the top of the lens and one at the bottom. The strong prescription at the bottom is designed specifically to aid wearers in seeing close objects clearly. Switching from looking ahead to looking down is no sweat.

How Bifocals Work

Bifocals are glasses with two prescriptions on each lens. The top half of the lens has your vision prescription for objects far away. A small portion on the bottom of the lens has your reading prescription for close objects. Since presbyopia causes farsightedness, the bottom prescription is stronger.

  • The weaker distance prescription is on top.
  • The stronger close-up prescription is on the bottom.

There is an obvious, visible line on bifocals that indicates where one prescription ends and the other begins. The shape of the bifocal portion is different depending on the type of bifocal you get.

Bifocal Contact Lenses While Driving

You can also get contact lenses with bifocal properties. These operate the same way as bifocal glasses, with two separate prescriptions on each lens. You may prefer these while driving, as you can easily wear sunglasses over them.

However, keep in mind that long-term use of contacts can be irritating in and of themselves.

No-Line Bifocals While Driving

No-line bifocals, also called progressive lenses, are another option. Unlike traditional bifocals, these do not have a visible line. Since progressive lenses can technically house three prescriptions per lens, these are actually more like trifocals than bifocals.

It can be more difficult to determine where each prescription ends and another begins, which may cause issues while driving. There are pros and cons to all types of bifocals, so choosing a style depends on your specific needs and preferences.

Getting Used to Bifocal Lenses

Any optometrist or technician will tell you that it does take some time to get used to your new bifocals. If you have been wearing single-vision lenses all your life, bifocals are quite a change. However, there is also an adjustment period with any new pair of glasses, no matter what type of lenses they have. Do not be intimidated by this change.

Driving during this adjustment period can be strange, but it is not impossible. Take care and be cautious and take the proper steps to ensure your own safety and the safety of others on the road with you while you are still acclimating to your new glasses. Avoid planning any long-distance trips until you have gotten fully used to your bifocals.

Side Effects of Adjusting to New Bifocal Lenses

Be knowledgeable of the side effects you might experience before receiving your new bifocals. This way, they will not come as a shock, and you can be better prepared for them. The below side effects will not prevent you from driving, but it is best to keep them in mind while adjusting to your new lens style and prescription.

These symptoms seem harsh, but as stated above, they are no different than the symptoms you would go through when going from one pair of single vision lenses to another pair with a stronger prescription. The symptoms will only last as long as it takes to get used to the new bifocals. After that, you will not have to worry about them again.

Tips and Tricks for Adjusting to New Bifocal Lenses

Thankfully, there are tips and tricks for getting through the transitionary period as quickly and easily as possible. While these tips will not eliminate the side effects, they will help you adjust to your bifocals properly. The sooner you are fully acclimated to the new lenses, the sooner you can get back to doing everyday things, like driving, more easily. 

  • Wear your bifocals as soon as you wake up.
  • Wear them for a couple of hours, increasing the time each day.
  • Move your whole face toward where you want to look instead of just your eyes.
  • Read through the bottom of your lenses with the material about 16 inches in front of you.
  • Move whatever you are reading or working on instead of your eyes or head to ensure your eyes remain to look out of the bifocal portion of your glasses. 

You should also look straight ahead and not down at the ground when you walk. Furthermore, do not wear your old single-vision lenses when you are not wearing your bifocals.

These suggestions will help to keep you on track when switching to a bifocal prescription. As stated above, there should not be a period where you will be wholly unable to drive, even during this transition. These side effects are mild and short-term. You can continue with your daily routine as usual, which includes driving.

Properly Fitting Bifocals are Essential for Driving

Now, if you have had your new lenses for a while and are still having trouble, there might be something else at play. If you follow all of the above suggestions correctly and are still not adjusting to your bifocals after a couple of weeks, or if your side effects are severe, return to your optometrist to ensure your bifocals are defective.

While this may not be easy to tell in every situation, it is always best to be safe and check in with your doctor if you think there might be other problems.

Improper Bifocal Positioning

The positioning of the prescriptions on the lenses must be accurate for them to work. Driving with faulty lenses can end up being more harmful than driving without bifocals in the first place. Below are potential scenarios to consider:

  • If a bifocal is too high, the road will appear blurry.
  • If a bifocal is too low, it will provide no benefit.

The bifocal is meant to provide vision correction for close-up objects that are blurry due to your eye’s inability to focus. If the bifocal portion of the lens is positioned up too high, this prescription will bleed into the distance line of sight. This could cause blurry vision where you had none before, making it difficult or impossible to see the road ahead.

If the bifocal is too low, of course, it does not provide adequate aid when you look down to check your dials. If this is the case, you might as well be wearing single vision lenses. Your doctor’s office will likely examine the lenses while you wear them and determine whether a new pair of lenses needs to be cut for your bifocal glasses.

Ill-Fitting Bifocal Glasses

Along with improperly crafted lenses, ill-fitting lenses can actually make it very difficult to drive with bifocals. This is less likely to happen since any reputable establishment should sit you down and fit your glasses properly before you walk out the door with your bifocal glasses. However, things happen, and these are some scenarios to watch for.

  • You can only read through a narrow window.
  • You have to lift or lower your head to read.
  • Your distance vision is not as sharp as it should be.
  • Your peripheral vision is blurry.

The best way to avoid getting home with ill-fitting glasses is to speak up during your first fitting appointment. Do not try to appease the technician by answering “yes” to questions when you should answer “no.” If the above things are happening to you when you wear your bifocals, there could be awful consequences down the road, literally.

When people do have struggles switching to bifocals, most of them are due to the above two things: improper bifocal positioning and ill-fitting bifocal glasses. Having a strong grasp over your distance vision, close-up vision, and peripheral vision are all key factors when driving. When these three things are correct, bifocal driving is a breeze.

Your Driving Habits Are Important 

Knowing that you need bifocals is the first step. Next, you should take into account how much time you spend behind the wheel. You might have a short commute up the road, or you might spend hours in the car each day. These factors will determine what kind of extra features you might want to have added to your bifocals when you order them:

  • Long-haul truck driver
  • Pilots
  • Bus drivers
  • Racecar drivers
  • RV travelers

All of the above occupations spend a great deal of time driving (or flying). You are more likely to be driving on the roads every day than flying through the skies or whizzing around a racetrack, but you can still benefit from the most premium materials and coatings for your bifocals if you spend a lot of time in the driver’s seat.

Best Lens Options for Bifocal Glasses

Regular, standard, out-of-the-box lenses will not cut it if you drive often or great distances. There are too many options available for you to ignore at your own detriment. Some of these are luxury items that you should order if you can, and some of them are absolutely crucial.

If in doubt, speak to your doctor concerning when you will be using your bifocal glasses.

Essential Lens Coatings for Driving

Lens coatings are super thin layers of a film added to your lenses that give them some added protection or benefit.

  • Anti-reflective coating
  • Scratch-resistant coating

Anti-reflective coating is a must-have when it comes to driving. It is essential for driving at night, especially for people who need vision correction, like those who wear bifocal glasses. Anti-reflective coating reduces glare, so it is easier to see the lines on the road ahead without getting blinded by reflective light pollution.

The scratch-resistant coating does not make your glasses completely scratch-proof, but it does help protect them. Little knicks and divots on your bifocals can make it difficult to see properly when driving. Having a scratch-resistant coating can help prevent these annoying obstacles, making it easier to see clearly on the road.

Optional Lens Coatings for Driving

While the above coatings are non-negotiable, the coating below would be great to have, but are not absolutely necessary. If it were more widely available, it would likely be on the must-have list.

  • Anti-fog coating

Any person who wears glasses of any kind understands the struggle of thick fog that comes with moving from a cold area to a warm area. Anti-fog coating helps prevent that sudden blindness. This is very beneficial for driving, especially in areas where the climate can be very cold.

Specialty Lenses for Driving

Along with the aforementioned coating options, specialty lenses are on the market that will elevate your bifocals and make them perfect for driving.

  • Free-from no-line bifocal (progressive) lenses

Free-form progressive lenses are special, high-definition lenses that offer wearer’s the most precise prescription available. This allows for extremely sharp vision, especially during twilight and nighttime driving. Free-form progressive lenses also offer sharper peripheral vision compared to standard progressives, so drivers have a sharper awareness of their surroundings.

In general the periphery is less blurry with bifocals compared to progressives.

Because of their added benefits and the advanced technology, it takes to create free-form lenses, they are quite a bit more expensive than conventional lenses. They are premium, luxury lenses.

If you want to learn more about progressive lenses for driving I have an article here for you.

Bifocal Sunglasses

Just like with single-vision lenses, bifocals are available in prescription sunglasses. These are a great investment for driving during the day or in the late afternoon when the sun is low and bright.

  • Photochromic driving lenses

Photochromic lenses are the style of lenses that get darker based on the UV light they encounter. The most famous brand of photochromic lenses is Transitions. However, for driving, you need their specific DriveWear lens line, as they do not rely on UV rays that are blocked by your vehicle’s windshield.

The Transitions DriveWear lenses still offer UV protection, but they do not rely on the UV rays to function. The DriveWear lenses are also polarized. These are more accurately sunglass lenses, but they are worth the investment for the unique assistance they provide.

Other types of sunglasses are available in bifocal wearers that are not photochromic. While they may not have all the features of the DriveWear lenses, regular bifocal sunglasses are more affordable and accessible to most consumers.

Wrap Up

Driving with bifocals should be no different than driving with single-vision lenses. Just like with any corrective lenses, bifocals take some getting used to. The above knowledge should help you get more comfortable with bifocal lenses as a whole and with their usefulness on the road.

I wish you a great day.

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