[Nfbmo] Fwd: BBC E-mail: Blind drivers at the steering wheel

Julie McGinnity kaybaycar at gmail.com
Tue Apr 23 03:03:25 UTC 2013

Hi all, I saw this article through another list and thought you might
find it interesting.  I copied and pasted most of the article to make
things easier for you all, but I recommend you look on the actual site
if you're curious because the article was broken up with pictures and
links to other articles in it.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Julie <kaybaycar at gmail.com>
Date: Tue, 23 Apr 2013 03:45:02 +0100
Subject: BBC E-mail: Blind drivers at the steering wheel
To: kaybaycar at gmail.com

** Blind drivers at the steering wheel  **
Innovations in automated driving have led to speculation that blind
people may be able to take to the wheel. But do they want to drive?
< http://www.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/news/magazine-21720318 >

Innovations in automated driving have led to speculation that blind
people may be able to take to the wheel. But do they want to drive -
and could it become a reality?

How would you feel if a blind person pulled up next to you in a car?

This time last year, Google released a video showing a blind man
driving a car. He was seen going to a local drive-through restaurant
near his home in San Jose, California, and later collecting dry
cleaning without any difficulty.

Steve Mahan, the driver, heads the Santa Clara Valley Blind Center and
hadn't been in the driver's seat of a car since giving up his licence
eight years earlier after losing 95% of his sight. On this occasion,
the only action he performed was to press a start button. He couldn't
control the car independently, but the video showed an intent to make
driving more accessible and safe for everyone.

"I'm finding there's a lot of buzz, a lot of people in the blind
community talking about driverless cars," says Mahan.

"In America, getting a driver's licence is a rite of passage. It
represents being able, having the liberty to go where you want to go.
Cars and car ownership are important parts of a sense of independence
and personal power."

Public transport isn't very developed in the US, so being carless can
leave you isolated and could contribute to problems such as
unemployment. Because of this, cars can provoke a very emotional
response among blind people, says Mahan. "We have had clients that
will just go out and sit in the vehicles they used to drive and turn
the motor on, just to be behind the wheel."

improve road safety - people get distracted but computers don't
Vehicles that can do simple tasks such as park themselves are already
on the market
Companies such as Google are testing driverless technology (pictured
above in Washington DC)
Engineers at the University of Oxford have developed a car that drives
itself on familiar routes - and want permission to try it on public

Mahan, 60, believes blind people will be driving in his lifetime and,
after experiencing several journeys in the Google car, says he'd be
confident enough to use one now if it had talking controls.

Others are much more sceptical.

"I would be surprised if in the next five years these products will
reach market and we'd be legally allowed to drive," says Hugh Huddy, a
campaigns officer at the Royal National Institute of Blind People, and
who is himself blind.

The technology may be heading in one direction, but there are other
barriers to the prospect of blind people driving - namely lawmakers
and other road users.

Google has been successful in lobbying the states of Nevada,
California and Florida, all of which have now passed laws to allow the
testing of automated cars on their roads. It doesn't follow that
people with sight loss will automatically be granted a licence,

Huddy is concerned about insurance and liability.

"If someone is involved in an accident, a human being could run in
front of the car, or a load could fall off a lorry, and the technology
probably would not save you from being in a collision," he says.

What would a world of driverless cars be like? Safer roads, say some.

In the US alone, driver error - weaving out of the lane, drink driving
and distracted driving, for example - is a factor in at least 60% of
fatal crashes.

"Your automated car isn't sitting around getting distracted," says
Danny Sullivan, who has taken a two-minute ride in Google's car on a
closed course.

"It's not looking down to change the radio and looking up and noticing
all the cars have stopped. When the car is on self-driving mode, it
doesn't speed, it doesn't cut you off, it doesn't tailgate."

It evokes nightmare scenarios of people who can't see, sitting in a
metal box oblivious to the fact that a truck may be bearing down on
them, or wondering what that soggy sounding chassis-shaking bump may
have been.

Google's automated cars have already travelled 300,000 miles and
caused no accidents. This is said to be safer than the average driver.

Ingmar Posner, an engineer at the mobile robotics group at the
University of Oxford, is part of an engineering team working on a car
that will be able to take the strain off the driver with partial

"Imagine one day on the M25 you're trying to go from A to B. A light
will come on your dashboard and say, 'I know exactly where I am, we've
driven this stretch of road loads of times. If you like, I can take
over for the next 500m.'"

Cars that can do smaller functions, such as control a car in traffic
jams, keep you inside lane markings or auto-park, are already on the
road or about to come to market courtesy of Toyota, Mercedes, BMW and

Posner believes his car could affordably reach the showrooms in 10 or
15 years, but that a fully blind person still wouldn't be able to
drive it. He believes partially automated cars like his will help to
make it possible for some impairments to be eliminated as barriers to

"The thing I'm envisioning is that visual aids in your field of vision
could highlight the lane markings for people who find night driving
difficult," he says. "You also get pedestrian detection in cars these
days so the edges [of disability and ability] will start to get

Lots of people will need convincing that someone with no sight should
be allowed to pilot a road vehicle independently. Mahan thinks a
gradual creep of automated features will lay the foundations for blind
drivers to become acceptable.

"What will happen is they will not get comfortable with blind people
driving, they will get comfortable with the capabilities of
self-driving cars that sighted people will be using."

He points out that, even if it does occur, cars still won't be the
answer to all his way-finding challenges.

"There will still be a difficulty getting out of the car and finding
your way to a front door of where you're headed, once it has parked
itself," he says.

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Julie McG
National Association of Guide dog Users board member,  National
Federation of the Blind performing arts division secretary,
Missouri Association of Guide dog Users President,
and Guiding Eyes for the Blind graduate 2008
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that
everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal
John 3:16

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