Since President Lyndon B. Johnson and Congress passed its resolution in 1964, we celebrate "White Cane Safety Day" or more simply, "White Cane Day" every October 15th. The purpose of this exhilarating day (Yes, for those of us who are blind or visually impaired or who work in the field of blindness, this day is thrilling!) is to celebrate the independence of those who are blind and to educate drivers on white cane laws.
In honor of White Cane Day 2016, let’s discuss a driver’s protocol when he or she sees an individual holding a white cane or using a dog guide at an intersection or (marked or unmarked) crosswalk.
First, you may find it helpful to understand how a blind pedestrian crosses an intersection. He or she must locate the intersection, listen for the pattern of traffic, align him or herself up to cross the street, wait for perpendicular traffic to stop, and ideally cross the street as parallel traffic is surging forward.
As a driver, this means you may see an individual holding a cane who is preparing to cross a street, yet not yet crossing. Your job at this point is to slow down and be prepared to stop should the individual cross at an inappropriate time.
Next, the blind individual should transition the cane from an upright position to an extended position in front of the body; a signal he or she is stepping out. If you are approaching a crosswalk (whether marked or unmarked) or intersection and see an extended white cane, you must stop. Likely, this comes into play if the individual is attempting to walk across the same road you, as the driver, are attempting to cross (such as turning right on red).
As the blind or visually impaired pedestrian is signaling a move forward or moving forward, your job as the driver is to pull up to the crosswalk, but refrain from driving into the crosswalk. This allows the pedestrian to hear the hum of your engine as it is at a complete stop.
Only after the individual has safely crossed the street should you continue your turn or continue driving through the intersection, even if that means waiting a few moments after your light has turned green. This is helpful for the pedestrian to remain oriented.
We can’t over-emphasize the importance of drivers following the above protocol. The safety of blind and visually impaired travelers is dependent on their mobility skills and drivers’ compliance with white cane laws.
Learn More About White Canes
If you are eager to learn more on the topic of white canes, take a look at the following:
- To learn your state’s white cane laws, read American Council of the Blind’s White Cane Laws for States.
- To learn about the history of the white cane, read the New Jersey Council of the Blind’s history lesson.
- To learn about the three purposes of a white cane, read White Cane Day 2015: Let’s Go Back to the Future with Slim, My White Cane.
Thank you for taking the time to celebrate White Cane Safety Day with us at AFB!