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by Tim Beissmann

Ford of Europe has given 30 visually impaired people the opportunity to drive at high speeds in an exercise designed to be both fun and educational.

The blind and vision impaired participants were invited to Ford’s Merkenich Development Centre in Cologne, Germany and encouraged to take the wheel with a professional instructor beside them.

One driver clearly wasn’t messing about when they hit the fastest speed of the day: an impressive 74mph (119km/h).

There was a more serious side to the day, however. Ford of Europe vice president, legal, governmental and environmental affairs, Dr Wolfgang Schneider, said the program was designed to help the blind and visually impaired gain a greater understanding of vehicles and traffic to assist them in their everyday lives.

“In traffic situations, people with visual impairments orient themselves using sounds, so it’s easy for them to misjudge size and speed of cars,” Dr Schneider said.

“We want to help resolve such problems by encouraging greater participation in traffic that can leave us all more enlightened and confident.”

Lushe Grabanica, 28, from Treffelhausen confirmed that the program gave the participants a renewed sense of freedom and confidence.

“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.”

The driving instructors noted many of the participants learnt the clutch and gearshift controls faster than many of their sighted students.

Ford believes advancements in technology like radar systems, cameras and vehicle-to-vehicle communications will one day lead to greater independence for vision impaired customers.




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