It’s easy to take for granted some of life’s pleasures, such as driving. We complain about congestion, road rage, gas prices and all the other negative aspects. But at the heart of driving is driving, something that for many of us is exhilarating, pleasurable and flat-out fun.
So imagine if tomorrow you suddenly were without sight. You would miss literally seeing your family, your friends and the world around you. However, it would also mean you could no longer experience the thrill of being behind the wheel.
Ford recently gathered 30 visually impaired people to its test track at the Merkenich Development Center in Cologne, Germany, to do something many of them thought they would never do again: drive a car. With the guidance of professional instructors, the group took on the high-speed straightaways and corners. The fastest driver reached 74 mph.
The high-speed driving may have been the highlight, but there was a serious goal for the day: helping the blind and otherwise visually impaired gain a greater understanding of vehicles and traffic in a way that can help them in their daily lives. Ford hoped to learn valuable lessons as well. “In traffic situations, people with visual impairments orient themselves using sounds, so it’s easy for them to misjudge size and speed of cars,” explained Dr. Wolfgang Schneider, Vice President, Legal, Governmental and Environmental Affairs for Ford of Europe. “We want to help resolve such problems by encouraging greater participation in traffic that can leave us all more enlightened and confident.” The aim was also to raise awareness of their difficulties among sighted drivers.
Instructors were impressed by how quickly the participants took to the controls, such as the clutch and gearshift. In many cases, that happened significantly faster than sighted student drivers. In fact, with new technology developing rapidly – such as camera- and radar-based safety systems, advanced satellite navigation systems and vehicle-to-vehicle communications – the possibilities that the blind and visually impaired could one drive are increasing, and Ford predicts advanced driver assistance systems could one day lead to greater independence for these customers.
Lushe Grabanica, 28, from Treffelhausen, applied to join the event on Facebook and came away thrilled with the experience of driving. “Driving a car means freedom to me. Usually I sit in the passenger seat, where I also appreciate the experience. But steering a car on my own feels much better and gives me the chance to really get involved. And thanks to the event, my confidence in drivers has increased.”