Could blind people be soon to get behind the wheel?

Recent innovations in motoring have led to speculation that blind drivers may be able to take to the wheel in the future.

Around this time last year, a video was released showing blind man Stephen Mahan (aged 60) going through a drive thru restaurant and collecting his dry cleaning without any difficulty thanks to emerging technologies developed that allow a car to essentially manage its own operation. On that occasion, all Mr Mahan had had to do was press the start button.

One of Google’s fully automated cars

The technology is the same as that which is employed in the self-parking cars and autonomous vehicles which automatically stop the car if a close hazard is presented, thus preventing a crash. Though reviewers all accept that this technology, whilst being incredibly developed, is not yet at an acceptable standard to produce a fully automated car, the prototype driven by Mr Mahan which was created by Google surely signals a future in which blind people have the same access to the independence which comes with owning and driving your own car.

An example of one of the self parking cars being released onto the market in the coming years

Google’s car using a combination of technologies; GPA, laser, radar and 3D environment data gathered from the Google street view project, and is tested in states in the USA which have authorised the testing of automated cars on their roads. However, it does not follow that blind people will be able to legally drive as a result. In fact, opinion is divided among blind communities – whilst the test driver of Google’s prototype car Stephen Mahan believes that he will see blind people driving cars in his lifetime, Hugh Huddy the campaigns officer at the Royal National Institute of Blind People who is blind himself, is much more sceptical and is quoted as saying, “I would be surprised if these products would reach the market and we’d be legally allowed to drive.”

The dangers of allowing fully automated cars to be driven by registered blind people must of course be noted though. By handing over the control of the car to a computerised system the worry is what happens when the systems fails – especially when the person behind the wheel would perhaps not be capable of driving under normal conditions, such as someone with limited eyesight. Currently the technology is new and has not yet had time to deteriorate, which, as anyone whose computer has crashed or car broken down will tell you, is inevitable. Of course, rules surrounding these systems could perhaps be introduced such as  mandatory services on the car including the technology utilised in it, but what is not accounted for are those people who would perhaps neglect to keep their car in an appropriate condition thus risking the safety of themselves and everyone else on the road.