Driving is an activity that requires a combination of senses in order to reduce the risk of accidents and arrive safely at your destination. Drivers with hearing impairment need to take extra precautions as their diminished hearing can pose a risk, but only if they do not take measures to manage that risk.
When driving a vehicle, you depend on your hearing to know that an emergency vehicle is approaching, to hear a warning honk from another driver, or to detect other possible dangers on the road. There was a time when popular belief was that people with hearing loss should not be allowed to drive at all. In fact, when cars began being mass-produced and states were creating the first driving laws, some states even banned drivers with hearing loss from operating vehicles. Fortunately those laws didn’t get far. In fact, in 2013, the Department of Transportation even passed laws allowing drivers with hearing impairments to apply for commercial licenses to drive large trunks.
Why would the Dept of Transportation allow this? Because the data shows that drivers with hearing impairments are capable of being as safe as non-impaired drivers. How is this possible? Because there are a number of things drivers with hearing impairments can do to ensure they are safe:
1. Ensure you own and are wearing your hearing aid – while this seems obvious, the sad fact is that despite the fact that over 40% of adults over 65 suffer from hearing loss, only 25% own a hearing aid. Besides the social and emotional aspects of living with hearing loss, driving without a hearing aid decreases your safety. Furthermore, ensure your hearing aid’s batteries are replaced regularly for optimal performance.
2. Speed – maintaining the appropriate speed ensures that you are likely to have more time to react to a situation on the road.
3. Visibility – Ensure you are using an extended rear-view mirror, sometimes called a “full view mirror”. In fact, in New York, it is a law that you must either wear you hearing aid or utilize a full-view mirror if your license designates that you have hearing loss.
4. Assistive Devices – there are devices that will provide you with a visible indicator if your turn-signal has been left on accidentally. Another type of device provides you with a siren alarm if it detects an emergency vehicle’s siren nearby.
5. Distractions – Recent studies have found a link between hearing loss and driving performance when distractions were present. Distractions can range from music, conversations, cell phones, navigation systems or other car gadgetry. Cutting down on distractions is an important factor to reducing driving risk – and that goes for everyone, but especially individuals with hearing loss.
With the proper hearing, attentiveness, and the support of assistive devices, drivers with hearing loss can be just as safe on the road as anyone else.