Since President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed October 15 of each year to be White Cane Safety Day, the White Cane Law has been central to the safety of people who are blind or visually impaired as they travel and go about their daily activities. The law acknowledges the capabilities of the blind and visually impaired community, creating a sense of empowerment and a way to educate others. To provide this education, it is important to make sure people know everything they need about the White Cane Law. Here are some common beliefs about the White Cane Law, and the corresponding truths. This will help when responding to questions posed by family, friends, and members of the general public.
Image: Caucasian teenage girl driving a car.
Belief: The White Cane Law is adequately covered in driver's education.
Fact: While the White Cane Law is included in the Driver's Manual, the degree of focus placed on the law in driver's education classes is dependent on the instructor. There is no time requirement on the topic, so some instructors might cover it extensively, while others spend a short time-as little as a few minutes-talking about the law. Another issue is that people most often take driver's education while adolescents. There is usually no need to take another written test going forward, unless a person has a driver's license that has been expired for more than eight years or if they want to add another class and/or endorsement to an existing license. This limited review makes it difficult for people to remember something they learned briefly in driver's education class for the rest of their lives.
Belief: Police officers know about the White Cane Law.
Fact: We thank police officers for their service on our roads and streets, especially those who are advocates for white cane safety. However, just like drivers, police might not be well informed about the law and how to recognize or handle a violation. In some cases, the driver is issued a citation, but not in all cases. It is important that we as members of the blind and visually impaired community undertake initiatives to provide education to police about knowing and enforcing this law.
Image: State patrol pulling over a motorist.
Belief: There is no penalty for violating the White Cane Law.
Fact: According to Wisconsin statute:346.30(3) (3): "any person person violating s. 346.26 may be required to pay between $25 and $200 for the first offense and may be required to pay between $50 and $500 for the 2nd or subsequent conviction within a year." Compared to the risk of injury or death that could occur to people who are blind or visually impaired who are struck by vehicles, this fine illustrates that even if properly enforced, penalties for breaking the law are small.
Image: Man walking with white cane.
Belief: Increasing the number of feet that a driver has to stop will strengthen the White Cane Law.
Fact: Our highest priority is creating greater understanding of the White Cane Law. The stopping distance is a secondary issue. Right now, the White Cane Law is significantly under-enforced and many people do not know the law even exists. Increasing the ten-foot distance at which vehicles need to stop will not change this. Efforts would be better spent in educational projects to inform law enforcement and the general public of the existence of the White Cane Law.
Belief: White Cane Law is consistent across the United States.
Fact: Each state has its own White Cane Law and they vary widely. Wisconsin law asserts that drivers must stop ten feet from a pedestrian carrying a white cane or using a guide dog, and the penalties are the fines noted above. Arizona law, for instance, states drivers should yield to pedestrians carrying a white cane or using a guide dog or being assisted by a sighted person, and that drivers are responsible for any damages to the person if they are hit. Penalties for violating this law include imprisonment for up to four months, and/or a fine of up to $750. In some states, such as Hawaii, California, and Arkansas, the word "handicapped" is used when referring to people who are blind or visually impaired in White Cane Laws.
For more information about the White Cane Law in each state, visit the website of the American Council of the Blind at acb.org/whitecane.
What You Can Do:
- Share a post on your social media celebrating White Cane Safety Day. The Council will have such posts containing these beliefs and facts throughout early October, and you can easily share them with family and friends.
- Write an op-ed or letter to the editor for a local newspaper explaining the White Cane Law, why it matters to you and your community.
- Gather a group of advocates. If you are a member or leader of a low vision support group or Lions Club, brainstorm together to gather ideas of what can be done as a group to spread the message about the White Cane Law.
- Show your support for White Cane Day by ordering a t-shirt. These shirts are produced for the White Cane Day Celebration taking place in Milwaukee on October 15. Anyone can purchase a shirt to wear in their community throughout the day. T-shirt orders can be placed at http://bit.ly/2MX1ZGU .
- Organize a walk through your town with people using white canes. Getting visible and raising awareness can be the best way to educate.
- Reach out to local law enforcement, serving as a resource to provide information to them about the White Cane Law. Many law-enforcement officials offer organized events to meet police officers. Attending and talking with them about the White Cane Law and why it matters can be a great way to spread awareness. Alternatively, appointments can be made with local law enforcement to discuss the importance of the White Cane Law. Last year, the Council reached out to Chief Koval and asked him to put a piece about the White Cane Law in his daily blog on White Cane Safety Day. We thank him for doing this.
- Encourage local elected officials to host a press conference about White Cane Safety Day and/or to issue a White Cane Day Proclamation in your community.
For more ideas and suggestions for planning a White Cane Day Celebration in your community, see the White Cane Day Toolkit, located at the Council website. Find it on our website or call the Council at 800-783-5213 to request a copy.