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Blind man drives around Daytona Speedway

January 31, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
The sight and sounds of race cars speeding by is what usually comes to mind when thinking about cars and drivers at the Daytona International Speedway.

But over the weekend, Mark Anthony Riccobono decided to put a little twist on the image.

Legally blind, he got behind the wheel of a re-engineered Ford Escape and took a couple of laps on the famous track.

"The horizons of independence today are broader for blind people than they were two days ago," said Riccobono, part of the National Federation of the Blind.

Riccobono said the new car for the blind was designed by Virginia Tech scientists for members of the NFB.

Just like seeing drivers rely on sight to know how to maneuver the streets, blind drivers rely on lasers on the front of the car, which map out the road and convey the terrain to the driver with vibrating motors felt on their hands and on their seat.

Unlike the self-driving car introduced by Google last fall where a computer does all the work, this car empowers the driver to make turns and stops with specialized gloves.

In effect, a signal to the left pinky would be a sharp left turn whereas a left index signal would be a gradual turn.

Riccobono was able to drive around boxes on the track and barrels thrown in his path.

He said the real thrill was taking his family for a spin.

"It's that American dream that every father, and certainly every blind father, has to be able to pack the family up and go on the first road trip," Riccobono said. "Ours happened to be around the parking lot, but it was awesome."

So does this mean the blind will be driving on the roads soon? Some hope to be heading to the DMV in about a decade.