Mica hands keys to blind driver

Some might call it an impressive step in technology, others, a dangerous folly. But either way, House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) this weekend handed a set of car keys to a blind driver for the first-ever demonstration of a blind person driving a car independently.

The demo took place in a very unlikely spot: The International Speedway at Daytona.

The driver, Mark Anthony Riccobono, is an executive at the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). His vehicle of choice? A Ford Escape hybrid, equipped with what the NFB called "nonvisual technology."

In a nutshell, that means a 3-D computer model of the road, which communicates with a driver through special gloves that emit vibrations. There is also an in-seat vibration system.

Before the event, Mica called the demo an "historic moment which will shatter misconceptions about blind citizens and show the world exciting new technologies."

Mica's bold prediction came true; the demo went smoothly. (Much smoother than the scene in "Scent of a Woman," when Al Pacino, playing the role of blind Col. Frank Slade, took the wheel).

The car that was used at Daytona has a hybrid engine, which should help Mica score some points with new best-buddy in Congress, Democratic California Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Mica was Boxer's "date" to the State of the Union address, and since then, the pair have announced they'll have a "second date" in California next month at a town hall meeting on transportation issues. Boxer heads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and she'll work closely with Mica in the coming year to draft transportation legislation.