Driving experiences for the blind and partially sighted from Driving Ambition

blind driving experiences

Businesswoman Sandi Wassmer registered blind in 2008

I didn't start losing my sight until I was in my 20's, so as a standard rite of passage for a  teenager, when I was 16, I got my driver's licence. But unlike a lot of females who see driving as a mechanism to get from A to B and not something that involves pleasure, I was the quintessential boy racer. I loved driving and I loved driving fast.

But once the RP kicked in, and I knocked the wing mirror off of a parked car whilst trying to park mine, I stopped driving; this was my first big sight loss milestone in the erosion of my physical independence.

And over the years, I have longed for it like some sort of lost love. And it is not just about having the freedom to hop in the car and go wherever your heart desires, but the independence that goes along with having access to what is essentially a very powerful and, for many living in rural areas without public transport, essential mobility aid.

And for many years, that was how it was, and so I adapted and found different ways of getting around, but the pure pleasure of putting the pedal to the metal was forever denied me, or so I thought....

Then my gorgeous husband got on the wonderful world wide web and found a place, called Driving Ambition, that offers 'Driving Experiences for Visually Impaired' people and he booked me in for one.

And so, on a sunny Saturday morning, I set off to Turweston Aerodrome with my film crew - hubby and Tracey the Tree Hugger. Driving Ambition primarily provide driving lessons for under 17's as the aerodrome is private land and this is also how they have been able to extend their service to visually impaired folk.

We arrived 15 minutes early and I had a sharp shot of reality. Not only have I not driven in 25 years, I have never driven a manual car, nor have I ever driven in the UK, which to me is the wrong side of the road!

But it didn't take long for Mark Prewett, the owner of Driving Ambition, to set my mind at ease. He was amazingly calm under the circumstances, but also had the perfect balance of kindness, respect, authority, compassion, confidence and sense of humour that made it seem as if this was the most ordinary thing to be doing. The fear rapidly dissipated and was replaced by sheer excitement.

I pretty much figured that I was going to fumble with the stick shift, stall a few times, go round in circles in the parking lot and, if I was really lucky, meander down the long road at 10 miles an hour. Boy, did I ever misjudge that one.

In just 5 minutes. I got my head round the basics - getting in gear, using the pedals and hand brake, u turns, figures of 8, getting on the road and gently accelerating, but after these were accomplished with ease, Mark gave me a challenge: I was to weave between 8 cones. I laughed and offered him a side bet that I would knock them all over, but lo and behold, they all remained standing, so I asked if I could do it without instruction on the way back. As I have double vision, I fashioned a funky set up where I closed one eye and as the cones were the only objects available and I could ever so vaguely work out where they were, I went for it and didn't knock over a single one.

I screeched and laughed like a wailing banshee, full of the joys of life, but the need for speed was still burning inside of me and I asked Mark, "How fast can I go?" and he said, "probably between 40 and 45", and with that we set off on the long straight road. I slowly put my foot down on the accelerator, and then he said those glorious words, "put your foot to the floor".

Yowza. I got to 52 mph! I was free. I was mobile. I was able. It was exhilarating and liberating and a big honking shedload of fun. And he not only let me do it again, but got me to do a three point turn, then park the car in an angled space with rather startling symmetric precision.

And then my hour was up and we got out of he car as my crew headed over. Apparently, they didn't need to ask how it was, as they could hear me laughing all the way through. And as I thanked Mark profusely for such an incredibly unexpectedly marvellous experience, I had my Terminator moment and, with a cheeky grin, said "I'll be back".