COLOGNE, Germany – A group of 30 blind and visually impaired people gathered at Ford’s test track last week to experience something many of them may have thought was beyond their reach – driving a car.
With the guidance of professional instructors, the group took on the high-speed straights and corners at the Ford Development Centre in Merkenich, Cologne. The fastest driver reached 120 km/h (74 mph).
The high-speed driving may have been the highlight, but there was a serious aim to the day -- helping the blind and visually impaired gain a greater understanding of vehicles and traffic in a way that can help them in their daily lives.
“It’s an honour to be a part of an event where blind and visually impaired people get the unique opportunity to experience driving a modern Ford, but we hope to learn some valuable lessons from today, also,” said Dr Wolfgang Schneider, vice president, Legal, Governmental and Environmental Affairs, Ford of Europe. “In traffic situations, people with visual impairments orientate themselves using sounds, so it’s easy for them to misjudge the size and speed of cars. We want to help resolve such problems by encouraging greater participation in traffic."
Driving for Blind and Visually Handicapped People is a cooperative project between Ford of Germany and the Archbishopric of Cologne, with the help of the Federal Association of Driving instructors, the Cologne Police Department, Germany’s leading auto club, ADAC, and local charities. 53 Ford employee volunteers helped organise the event as part of the Ford Community Involvement Programme.
The event was one of several Ford has held for blind and visually impaired drivers in recent years.
Lushe Grabanica, 28, from Treffelhausen, applied to join the event on Facebook and came away thrilled with the experience of driving. “Driving a car means freedom to me. Usually I sit in the passenger seat, where I also appreciate the experience. But steering a car on my own feels much better and gives me the chance to really get involved. And thanks to the event my confidence in drivers has increased.”
Katrin Berus, 32, from Kleve, came away a fan of the Fiesta: “From my perspective, many cars are angular and feel edgy. The Ford Fiesta is more pleasant because of its round forms, inside as well as outside. Driving it was not a big problem for me. Operating the clutch and gearshift was easier than I expected”.
Instructors were impressed at the speed with which the participants took to the controls – in many cases significantly faster than sighted student drivers.
In fact, with new technology developing rapidly – including camera- and radar-based safety systems, advanced satellite navigation systems, and vehicle-to-vehicle communications – the possibility that blind and visually impaired could one day drive is increasing.
“Technology is progressing so fast that blind and visually impaired people will perhaps be able to experience greater freedom behind the wheel in just 15 or 20 years,” Schneider said.