Monday, July 27, 2009

Some thoughts on low-vision driving

You’d hardly think of getting behind the wheel as a point of controversy, but for some in the blind/low vision world, it really is a point of contention. Who should be allowed to drive, who shouldn’t and is it really safe?

I must confess, in my younger years I was very against the whole thing. It didn’t seem safe. As I’ve come to understand how even people with the same visual acuity can sometimes have different “practical” vision, I’ve lightened up on the issue a bit.

Even so, I don’t drive and I won’t drive unless there’s some technological breakthrough that would make me feel that it would be safe. My nystagmus makes it very hard for me to get my eye to look into a bioptic unless everything else in the visual field is blocked out. High glare moments, such as twilight, reduce my vision considerably. So for me, it’s a non-issue.

While there are many low vision drivers who seem to be perfectly safe, I do worry that the pressure to drive puts some people behind the wheel that maybe shouldn’t be there. Eye doctors, in their zeal to “make you better” seem sometimes very eager to outfit someone for driving. I worry about, for example, people I know who say they need a sighted guide to get around a strange building, yet get behind the wheel. Or another low vision person I know who has had four accidents in six years, but swears it has nothing to do with his vision.

Driving isn’t a right. Getting behind the wheel can be a life and death decision and should be taken with a great deal of care and thought for others.

It’s not hard to understand. Of all the aspects of not seeing so hot, I think the most difficult to deal with is not driving – especially here in the Midwest where public transit is scarce and often useless.

Everything else in my life that is impacted by my vision I’ve found an alternative technique to use to make it just as efficient and easy for me to do as anyone else. But, there’s no alternative technique equal to the act of getting in one’s car whenever you feel like it and going anywhere you please.

That isn’t to say you can’t lead an independent adult life without driving. I’d hardly view myself as dependent. I’d encourage others who decide driving isn’t safe to plan a life that allows you the greatest independence. Live in places with public transit if possible, or within walking distance of the things you’ll need most often, like a grocery store or bank. If you can, hire someone for an afternoon a week to run you around to do the things you need to do etc.

Remember that people that drive have expenses, like car payments, gas and insurance. If you can afford it, budget that in for your own transportation needs, whether it’s cab fare or hiring a neighbor to get kids to soccer practice.

I also think it’s important for families with kids that might not ever be able to drive to plan family outings now and then using public transit. It was really scary growing up, knowing I wouldn’t be able to drive, and yet never having how to live without a car modeled for me.

Who knows – maybe someday the technology will be out there for us all to be able to drive. You’ll note the article I posted below about the engineering team developing a car for the blind. As they perfect this technology, perhaps it can supplement what low vision drivers are already using to make them even safer and more confident – or to expand the areas where they feel comfortable driving.

I’m not exactly holding my breath, but I sure wouldn’t mind a chance to see this technology for myself.

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