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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU

How healthy vision helps me perform at 200km/h

Emily Duggan race helmet on with glasses looking over shoulder to camera
Emily Duggan, Australian V8 Supercar driver Photograph: OPSM

On the racetrack, things happen quickly. A competitor’s car pulls in close around a chicane. The weather suddenly takes a turn for the worse. A collision happens on the road ahead. In these high-pressure scenarios, healthy eyes can be the difference between finishing on the podium and ending up in the gravel.

Emily Duggan has been racing for eight years and is the leading female race car driver in Australia.

She knows exactly what it’s like to have vision concerns behind the wheel; while racing, she used to find herself squinting to see things at a distance.

“For racing car drivers, we know that diet and training is important,” Duggan says. “But with that is the health of our eyes.”

Emily Duggun trying on glass frames

Early on in her career, Duggan worked with a personal trainer who started talking about general eye health. “After that, I got my eyes tested and started seeing an optometrist more regularly. The next race meeting was one of the ones where I came third. From then on, I was really consistent on the podium. It has helped me tremendously.”

While eye health is paramount to everyday drivers’ safety on the roads, Duggan says it goes a step further on the track – there, it’s about performance.

“Your reaction times, your hand movement, your throttle movement, your brake movement all need to be perfect. If you can’t see everything precisely, you can’t have precise movements. There are times when, in a crash for example, you need to take evasive action. If you can’t see clearly, you’ll end up in the crash.”

That’s a scenario Duggan has seen first-hand. While racing Toyota 86s at Bathurst, she approached the Chase at high speed.

“We went three wide through that corner,” she says. “I was in the middle; there was a car to my left and to my right. They are braking, coming in and out of my peripheral vision as they slow down and move back behind me. If I can’t see that happening, I can’t properly prepare myself for that corner.”

Poor eye health affects many aspects of our eyesight, and the impact can be catastrophic. That’s the reasoning behind the United Nations’ call to provide eye care services to 1 billion people by 2030 – and halve road deaths globally.

optometrist conducting eye test

Peter Murphy, OPSM’s director of eyecare and community, says there are things we can all do to reduce the “alarming number” of road accidents happening in Australia every year – one survey found 64% of Australian adults have been involved in an accident. “It’s a cost to society in general, and it doesn’t have to be,” Murphy says. “With some simple guidelines put in place, we can take action that will have a meaningful impact on reducing that carnage.”

OPSM is working with organisations such as Australian Motoring Services, owned by Australia’s motoring organisations, including the NRMA and RACQ, to support the UN’s objective. “The partnership is an important collaboration to promote Australians getting their eyes tested. It’s about giving good advice to customers or patients.”

Eligible Australians can get their eyes checked with no out of pocket expense, and Murphy recommends we do this at least once every two years, depending on our eye health needs. Regular eye checks can spot – and often correct or treat – issues before they become a danger on the road.

“If someone has uncorrected refractive errors – blurred vision – they have trouble reacting to oncoming traffic,” he says. “Or, if they have cataracts, they’ll be more sensitive to glare, which can also be disabling at night. Another example is glaucoma, which can restrict the peripheral vision and visual field, so they may not detect traffic entering until it’s too late.”

A routine eye check is a first step towards good eye health and confidence on the road.

For Duggan, that confidence has allowed her to proudly take her place on the podium time and time again. She – and other race car drivers – recognise the value of eye health in keeping themselves and others safe, while performing at their best.

“On the track, the only things that you really have are your eyes and your tyres,” she says. “Your tyres are what stick your car to the road, and your eyes help you know what’s out there.”

While Duggan’s healthy vision helps her reach the podium, it is crucial for all drivers. By supporting the UN’s call, OPSM is on track to keep drivers safe at every speed.

Book your next eye test today based on your eye health needs and take to the road with confidence.

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