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Understanding White Cane Laws

A white cane is often synonymous with blindness, but many people do not always understand its significance or the laws that affect pedestrians using a white cane. President, Lyndon B. Johnson declared October 15th as White Cane Safety Awareness Day. Since 1964, this date has been observed throughout the United States with events and celebrations to raise awareness of the white cane’s impact on the safety of people with blindness or low vision. 

There is a common misconception, however, that white canes are only used by people with complete vision loss. Actually, the majority of people who are blind have residual vision but benefit from the use of a white cane.

Why Use a White Cane?

People with blindness or low vision use white canes to assist in independent orientation and mobility. The cane allows them to safely locate items in front of them such as steps, curbs, changes in path materials, or other potential hazards. A white cane also helps the user become oriented to their surroundings such as a sidewalk, roadway, or other path which allows them to know where they are and what is around them. Additionally, a white cane serves as a symbol to those around them that the user has vision loss and may not see things in their environment, which is especially beneficial in navigating traffic and other busy or unfamiliar environments.

White Cane Laws

White cane laws vary by state; however, the primary intent of each state law is to ensure that the person using a white cane, which may or may not include a red tip, has the right of way when crossing the street. There are important differences among states in that some require the driver to stop completely, others require the driver to yield, and still others require the driver to be cautious when someone is using a white cane. Many state laws also include the use of a service dog within their laws, though, this is not mentioned in every case. Most states mention the use of predominately white canes (with or without a red tip) but some also note that metallic-colored canes may be included under their law. These distinctions can be important as there are different styles and materials used for white canes that can present slightly differently visually, especially when seen in headlights, which may or may not reflect off the cane. Additionally, some people use other types of canes, such as support canes that may also be white, which support both balance and identification of blindness or low vision. These canes would still apply under these laws. Most states also list the penalties associated with violations of their laws. These laws are typically summarized within driver’s manuals. Additionally, many states discuss the legal rights of someone using a white cane regarding their access to public spaces. These laws often convey the same access as provided under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which allows anyone needing a white cane to use one in any public place.

Despite variations in state laws, it is important for the white cane user and the general public to understand these laws. The cane user should be aware that while these laws exist, they do not ensure the user’s safety, despite the legal requirements of the driver. It is also important that drivers and the general public ensure they are following these laws and are aware of the challenges faced by pedestrians with blindness or low vision.

For more information about your state’s white cane law see

Blind Rehabilitation Services

Blind rehabilitation services can assist you or someone you know in learning how to use a white cane with a service called orientation and mobility, as part of a comprehensive rehabilitation plan. If you or someone you know could benefit from meeting with a blind rehabilitation specialist, and you are a service member or veteran, you may be eligible for services from VA Blind Rehabilitation Services. Otherwise, contact your state vocational rehabilitation agency for more information.


Blind Rehabilitation Services

State Vocational Rehabilitation

White Cane Laws for States