Many years ago, I worked at a camp for blind and visually impaired children in Malibu, California. I wrote songs with the kids and was the host of a talent show program. It was a very inspiring experience. While at the camp, I was surprised to find that under some circumstances, blind and visually people can legally drive a car. Since then, with advances in driving assistance technology, even more blind and visually impaired people have this capability.
‘Mr. T,’ my visually impaired friend, drives a monster truck around Los Angeles
At the camp, there was a visually impaired counselor who had the camp name, “Mr. T.” My camp name was “The Wisco Kid,” which pays homage to my home state of Wisconsin. On my first day at the camp, one of the first things that I saw was Mr. T driving an extended-length golf cart, transporting people to and from the cabins.
A theme of the camp was to encourage kids to explore the possibilities of life. With this in mind, it was very fitting that a visually impaired counselor was the official driver of the blind and visually impaired children at the camp.
During my time at the camp, I became good friends with Mr. T. He was an avid surfer. I first learned to surf in Malibu after Mr. T let me borrow his surfboard. In addition to driving an extended-length golf cart at the camp, Mr. T drove a massive monster truck. It was surreal to ride in the monster truck with Mr. T at the wheel, cruising around Los Angeles, elevated above the traffic.
This was when I first found out that it is legal for some blind and impaired people to drive a car. In case you’re wondering, Mr. T is an excellent driver. He drove very cautiously and carefully. His only limitation, as required by law, is that he can only drive during the daylight hours.
Legal driving requirements for blind and visually impaired people
To understand the legal driving requirements for blind and visually impaired people, we must first look at what constitutes blindness. According to the American Foundation for the Blind, only 15% of people with eye disorders are completely blind. As far as the remaining 85%, visual impairments have three classifications: moderate (20/160 vision), severe (20/400 vision), and profound (20/1,000 vision). Furthermore, someone may have a visual impairment in either both eyes or just one.
Passing an eye exam with 20/40 vision is one of the requirements for getting your driver’s license in most states. At first glance, it seems that this would disqualify blind and visually impaired people from legally being able to drive a car. However, most states have some flexibility for the vision requirements.
Exceptions that enable blind and visually impaired people to be able to legally drive include:
- A restricted driver’s license or permit
- Passable vision in one eye and visual impairment in the other eye
- Use of visionary aids, such as telescopic lenses
- A conditional driver’s license that requires things like driver training, scheduled updates, and reports from an optometrist or ophthalmologist
As is the case with Mr. T, the most common type of legal restriction for blind and visually impaired drivers is that they can only drive during daylight hours. Typically, the acuity of a person’s eyesight diminishes with less light.
Driving assistance technologies and self-driving cars help blind and visually impaired people
The rapid advancement in technology opened the door for driving possibilities for blind and visually impaired people. For one, telescopic lenses give many people with eye disorders the ability to drive. Furthermore, most new cars offer many driving assistance technologies, such as lane departure warning, blind-spot monitor, automatic braking, and pedestrian detection. These new technologies are a very helpful aid to visually impaired drivers.
Also, with the advancement of autonomous and self-driving cars, the future offers many new possibilities for blind and visually impaired people. With self-driving cars transporting them, blind and visually impaired people can enjoy considerably more freedom and independence.
A bright future for blind and visually impaired drivers
These new technologies give me a great deal of hope. I have a soft spot for blind and visually impaired people. In addition to my work with blind and visually children at the camp in Malibu, I worked on projects for blind and visually impaired people in several countries around the world.
One of the most life-changing experiences was working with blind and visually impaired children in Laos. The children are victims of bombs that explode. There is a massive amount of unexploded ordnance (UXO) that litters the country from America’s illegal CIA-backed bombing campaign in Laos during the Vietnam War. (If you want an “eye-opening” experience, Google “What is the most bombed country of all time.”)
It’s sad to see the difficulties that blind and visually impaired people have to endure. However, at the same time, it’s inspiring to see the perseverance and creativity that they show in overcoming their challenges. Hopefully, new technologies will give blind and visually impaired people even greater opportunities to explore the possibilities of life, including driving a car.
This article was updated on 7/17/2022.