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Can driverless cars help people with vision loss?

autonomous vehicleToday was a historic day in California. Governor Brown signed SB1298 into law, which will pave the way for “autonomous vehicles” to enter our roads. The law allows driverless cars to be operated on public roads for testing purposes and instructs the California DMV to adopt regulations that govern the licensing, bonding, testing and operation of autonomous vehicle technology no later than 2015.

The legally blind

The CDC reports that 3% of Americans 40-years and older are have a visual acuity of 20/40 or less. That’s 3.5 million Americans who cannot obtain a driver’s license or operative a vehicle. This number is projected to increase as our population gets older and the burden of diseases such as macular degeneration, diabetes, and glaucoma increase.

Let’s face the facts, this is not Europe. The majority of Americans rely on cars for transportation. So 3.5 million of us need to rely on others to get around, resulting in family members and friends taking time off from work and an overall loss of productivity.

The inability to drive also engenders the negative feelings that come with the loss of independence. I see this everyday in my clinic. Many of my patients have low vision and cannot drive. They always have a son, daughter, or grandchild bringing them to all of their doctors’ offices and many wish they could be driving themselves.

Will the Google driverless car help?

If these cars live up to all the hype, they may allow the blind and visually impaired to become more independent; allow them to “drive” themselves places and not have to rely on friends and family. If safely implemented, this car technology will be a great boon to our society and make people feel better about themselves as well… and depression is a real problem when visual impairment is involved.

Would you be excited about a self-driving car? Please leave a comment below.

(Note: I have no financial relationship to the technology or companies mentioned in this post.)


11 comments on “Can driverless cars help people with vision loss?

  1. Chris Jones
    September 25, 2012

    Interesting post. Independence for people with low vision is a good thing. The expansion of car culture is not. I’d prefer to see advances in public transit that help people across the spectrum. But then again, I’m an energy scholar and not a doctor, so that may partially explain my loyalties.

    • visionmd
      September 27, 2012

      While I too dream of having a well-distributed mass transit system that spans the United States (as that would also help the visually impaired to be more independent), I think that that is a far-off future. These Google cars seem like they may come to market much more rapidly and be able to integrate into the already existing roadway infrastructure to provide more mobility for those otherwise bound to their homes.

  2. Erin Jackson
    December 13, 2012

    I am visually impaired myself and have had to rely upon friends and family as well as public transportation to get where I need to go which limits the distance I can travel. I would love to own a driverless car so that I can travel further from home and not always have to find a ride.

  3. DominicCJT
    May 22, 2013

    I believe this to be a positive idea. However I am also under the assumption that there will still be the option of manual driving. If so they will probably entitle you to have a license anyway. I am a visualy impaired teen and I can agree that it sucks when u show up places or meet people and you have to take the bus and be late and they show up driving their fancy cars. All the time I think why can I?. I believe this is a step forward in helping everyone including the blind community with independence.

  4. Laurie Moseley
    September 7, 2013

    I am legally blind and live in a small town We have no public transportation. I would be thrilled to have a car like this. Imagine not being able to take your son out to eat, picking him up from school if he is sick, getting groceries, and so many things sighted people take for granted. Also you do not want to be a burden to people. Some people do not have empathy, but they have to help you anyway, that is worse. So hopefully these cars could help people. It would be awesome to go on vacation and not have to worry about how to get there or a play, just to drive and have freedom. WHAT AN AWESOME DAY THAT WOULD BE!!!!

  5. Grace Gaines
    April 27, 2014

    Hi. My name is Ms. Grace Gaines. I think it’s a wonderful idea to have a driveless car for people who have a visionual impairment. It makes life more easier.Folks would not have to rely on friends and family to drive them places. I say this because I am visionally impaired myself. I can’t wait until the day comes when people who are visionally impaired get the freedom to go whenever and whereever they want to go. I hope this car comes out soon.

  6. toni
    June 30, 2014

    I was recently diagnosed with Macular Degeneration and am 56 years old. I was told that I will probably not be able to drive 10 years from now. The news was devastating to me because I have no children or family members in the area. I would be thrilled to be able to “drive” one of these new cars and am really hoping they will be available to all those with a loss of vision and unable to drive. It would help to maintain freedom and independence!

  7. Pat
    May 21, 2015

    how can you legallly drive a driver less car and be be stopped by pollice, our have your i.d. suspended do to the fact that you cannot pass an eye test. I am going through this myself now. It does not seem possible, in fact it seems as if the car failed and you rear ended a car you would be responsible and held for knowing you were legally blind

    • visionmd
      May 26, 2015

      You are correct. As the law currently stands, you have to have a valid driver’s license (i.e. meet the DMV vision standards) to have a driverless car.

  8. mike westfall
    November 11, 2015

    i am legally blind i was a truck driver cvor 20 years and now have to depend on people to take me where i need to go or be trapped in my home because the weather will not let me go and trying to walk every where can be dangerous i know this all to well so having a drivless car would be a very large help to me and others like me independents is very important and when you lise it it is hard on every body around you

  9. Chrystal Harris
    February 18, 2021

    I would be very excited about this. I have low vision and I’m not allowed to dr. Having a self driving car would be wonderful. Since I lost the vision in one eye I’m so lost. I would be willing to test drive the self driving car.

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