Taking the Slow Lane Towards Self Driving

By Brandon Smith

If given enough time and experience most blind people learn how to overcome their disability. They accept the challenges and inconveniences that come with the situation. There is one issue, however, that no matter how independent or confident a visually-impaired person is, makes them long for vision they will likely never have. That is the ability to freely travel.

A blind person always will have a slight disadvantage when it comes to getting around. Even blind individuals who possess strong travel skills, and are confident enough to walk most everywhere need to allow time to reach their destination. Paratransit/public transit can be unpleasant. Taxi fare can be expensive. Uber and Lyft are alternatives, but they aren’t as affordable as public transit. The most fortunate among us find rides with friends or family. There is one problem with these options: No matter what, a person depending on a ride from someone will always be on the driver’s schedule.

Sure, drivers have setbacks of their own, such as traffic jams and road hazards, though in most cases these obstacles can be avoided. As a person who enjoys the freedom of going where and when I want, I experience the full force of the frustration that most blind people feel in this situation. So why am I not jumping up and down about the new autonomous car craze? The reason is safety. After being a computer user for years, I know far too well how easily computers can just decide to refuse to do what you want them to do, regardless of the reason. GPS isn’t perfect. Sensors have not tested well in inclement weather. Obviously, serious technical kinks still need to be worked out.

It will take quite a bit of testing and reassurance to convince me to take a ride in a self-driving car. I know that some blind people are eager to gain their independence and cross that bridge. Having the ability to satisfy that spontaneous urge to take a ride when the need arises, with no hassle, will bring much gratification. But I say, not so fast.