Thursday, October 13, 2016

Pressure Growing to Allow Blind Drivers to Use Self-Driving Cars Alone

A few weeks ago I posted that Ford were to begin production of autonomous vehicles also called "Google Cars". The initial vehicles were to be built for fleet services, possibly Uber type ride share services. If you would like to read that earlier blog go to  Ford Motor Company Looks Toward Autonomous Motor Vehicle Fleets by 2021.

A white car parked in a driveway infront of a house and surrounded by trees and well kept shrubs and trees.
Possible Ford Autonomous  Vehicle
 In recent  months there have been a flurry of test services put out on the streets where the autonomous vehicles along with a technician and a human driver have operated in several cities around the world. As yet though these autonomouss vehicles have not been licensed to work alone and still require a sighted driver to take over if things go wrong.

To add to complications even when autonomous vehicles do become legal on the road and operate without any controls in the cabin, no gas pedal, no brake pedal and no steering wheel they will still require a sighted "driver" to accompany any blind person.

Recently, Elizabeth Woycke wrote an article  The Blind Have High Hopes For Self Driving Cars published in MIT Technology Review on October 12, 2016.

In August 2016, Perkins School for the Blind, began inviting tech companies from  a wide variety of regions to  co-operate in studies that would allow the new self-driving vehicles to have the ability to be operated by the blind. The problem at the moment being vehicle designers are just designing with sighted operators in mind. The Perkins School want to encourage a wider commitment from manufacturers to see the blind community as consumers of this new technology from the start. Building interfaces that would operate in a similar way to our smart phone apps with possible text to speech and haptic (vibrating ) feedback.

Organizations such as National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and American Council of the Blind (ACB) are also moving on legislators. They are looking for changes in current laws that fail to allow blind and visually impaired individuals to operate autonomous vehicles themselves. A recent legislation change in Nevada was blocked as being discriminatory as it allowed only sighted drivers to operate ALL types of self-driving vehicles under all circumstances.

The maintainance of laws which allow the blind and visually impaired to only use self-driving vehicles operated in the presence of a sighted operator leave us in the same position we are now. Today if I want to travel any long distance, I must rely on my wife, a friend or other relative, or a Taxi driver to take me. I have to wait upon them. I cannot use para-transit to take me somewhere because to use para-transit I must book 24 or 48 hours in advance. Neither of which allow me total independence.  I do have an option of using public transport such as buses and trains, but I am lucky in that  live in a city that has reasonable public transport systems in place. Two  years ago I lived in a sma rural town with little public transport out of town a simple journey took several hours and left me still requiring a relative or friend to drive me around town after the bus had left me at its stop.

We need to encourage our legislators to not se this new technology as just a car that can only be operated by the sighted. After all if the technology works perfectly, whether the driver is sighted or not will not be a factor. The driver of the future is really a passenger, doing other things while the vehicle takes care of the driving. They will work on daily tasks, read a book and even sleep. Never watching the road. Blind people do just that today. So why do we have to be second class citizens when this new technology would and should allow us parity with the sighted people around us.

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A steel travel mug with concept car designs available from
Concept Car Travel Mug