We are a fundamentally a visual society. In fact, 80% of the information we receive comes through the eyes. This is especially relevant when driving a vehicle or traveling on foot. However, the most frequent phrase after a road traffic incident is that “I did not see it”, a phrase many of us have uttered at some point.
According to a recent study carried out by several ophthalmology experts at the University of Helsinki (Finland), almost 24% of road incidents are related to a failure of observation or loss of visual attention.
In this sense, Andrés Gené, president of the College of Opticians-Optometrists of the Valencian Community and a researcher attached to INTRAS, recalls that “the most critical hours” for road accidents are precisely “when the light decreases” , that is, dawn or dusk, which shows the importance of vision. “A low visual capacity limits perceptions, causing an inadequate vision of signs and elements of the road, distractions and calculation errors”, adds Gené.
“Poor vision limits life in general,” explains Salvador Alsina, president of Vision and Life, an association that since 1955 has brought together optics and ophthalmology professionals. But, he adds, when we are pedestrians, we must be aware that “when facing the street, having difficulty distinguishing the traffic light, being able to see how a car or bicycle is approaching, its speed, and calculate the distance, are issues that can put our lives at risk”.
And the data shows that pedestrians are vulnerable road users. In 2019, 381 pedestrians died on Spanish roads (134 on interurban roads and 247 on urban roads), 22% of the total traffic victims registered that year.
Along these lines, Dr. Gené points out two particularly sensitive population groups as pedestrians: those over 70 and young people. In both cases, they suffer loss of visual attention, something very dangerous when traveling on the road. The former, due to their age, have lost their visual ability and “sometimes they don’t see the bus coming,” he says. The latter, for their part, tend to be “distracted and crazy.”
The youngest are of particular concern because, as Elisenda Ibáñez, optician-optometrist and Vision and Life coordinator explains, “we are facing the generation with a longer life expectancy, a very high mobility capacity and great preparation”, but they have “much worse vision than their ancestors”. According to the data, 63.5% of young university students are myopic.
The 20/20 away rule
Optician-optometrists insist on the importance of preventing eye fatigue from the use of digital devices. When we focus our gaze on a screen, blinking is significantly reduced, so the eye dries out (to see well, the ocular surface must be perfect). In addition, the tear also reduces with age, something that, for hormonal reasons, reaches women (40-45 years) earlier than men (50-55 years). To alleviate this situation, experts recommend the use of artificial tears. In any case, they insist on the 20/20 / far rule: every 20 minutes in front of a screen, rest 20 seconds and look into the distance.