This a consensus recommendation of the Task Group. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires corrected visual acuity of 20/40 in each eye (e.g., two eyes required) to operate a commercial motor vehicle.1 The Task Group believes driving in emergency response conditions is more visually demanding than driving a commercial vehicle. The literature describes performance decrements of important police functions (shoot/no shoot decisions, recognizing faces, identifying license plates, and weapons vs. non- weapons) as visual acuity worsens.2-6 California’s POST vision guidelines provide a detailed review of this literature.7 LEOs with vision worse than 20/20 appear to make significantly more errors in these situations, especially in dim light when more critical decisions are more likely to occur. For example, in dim light, correct identification of a potential weapon less than 6 feet away in officers with 20/20 vision was found to be less than 80%; with 20/60 vision it dropped to less than 40%.4 Similarly, LEOs with distant vision better than 20/20 made less than 10% errors in shoot/no shoot scenarios – in the 20/20 to 20/25 range, the error rate was less than 15%; in the 20/32 to 20/40 range, it was more than 20%; and at less than 20/60 was about 30%.3
LEOs who wear glasses for correction of distant visual acuity are at risk for dislodgement of those glasses during critical and other important law enforcement activities.8 Should that occur, LEOs with uncorrected distant visual acuity of worse than 20/100 (binocularly – measured with both eyes open) are at a greater risk of being unable to perform job functions. When distant vision was worse than 20/100,9 there was a significant decrement in performance in two tasks: 1) discriminating between non-weapons and weapons, and 2) finding lost spectacles. Although soft contact lens wearers may risk dislodgement in critical situations, this is very unlikely. Bilateral loss is even more unlikely and is not nearly as likely as loss of glasses.8 Therefore, there is no uncorrected distant visual acuity recommendation for soft contact wearers.
The military has extensive experience with refractive surgery for soldiers and airmen in operational settings with outcomes satisfactory.10,11
As a point of reference to assist the department’s physician in reviewing this opinion, U.S. military ophthalmologists usually clear personnel for deployment by 4 weeks post-operatively for laser-assisted in-situ keratomileusis (LASIK), and 12 weeks post-operatively for PRK or LASEK.12
This is based on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Visual Disorders and Commercial Drivers Report.22 The Task Group believes that driving in emergency response conditions is more visually demanding than driving a commercial vehicle.