If you took your driving test at age 16 and you are 66 years old now, that means you’ve been on the road for 50 years. Time flies! Think about how many changes occurred over that time. You’ve probably become more confident in your parking and merging skills, drive a newer car with additional tech features like Bluetooth, use a GPS or other navigation device to avoid traffic, and maybe even use a backup camera to guide you while reversing.
But what changes have occurred in your body during this time? It seems obvious that with age and declining vision, you now wear glasses or contacts to help you see while driving. Is the same the case for your hearing? Age related hearing loss is an incredibly common issue, so let’s dig into driving with hearing loss.
Is it legal?
A common misconception is that driving with hearing loss is illegal—it’s not! For standard driving, you do not have to pass a hearing test. However, if you are looking to pass a commercial driver’s license test in order to operate larger vehicles, you must satisfy the U. S. Department of Transportation’s Physical Qualification Standards. This includes the whisper test where a driver is required to be able to hear a whisper from 5 feet away without the assistance of hearing aids.
The National Association of the Deaf fought these standards and, in 2013, was able to acquire exemptions for 40 deaf or hard of hearing drivers. They are working to turn the exemptions into new rules for the driving test, so you may see more deaf truck drivers in the future.
Are Deaf adults better drivers?
Another common assumption is that hearing loss makes you a worse driver. This may be false. A study completed by doctors from the University of Rochester and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf found that adults with hearing loss struggle more when stimuli are centrally located in their field of vision, but excel in responding to stimuli in peripheral vision. This means drivers with hearing loss have the potential to see drivers out of the corner of their eye better but may respond slower to a changing traffic light signal. To answer the question of if deaf drivers are safer, there needs to be additional research. Until then, don’t judge a driver by their hearing!
One major downside to driving with hearing loss is the struggle to communicate with police officers and other drivers involved in any accidents. If you happened to get pulled over by an officer who you can’t hear speaking, you may run into trouble. States like Texas now print a notice on the back of a driver’s license (near where corrective lenses are listed) showing communication impediment. This keeps the driver from getting into any trouble due to miscommunication errors. The Center for Hearing Loss Help also created a placard to place on your dashboard giving readers helpful hints for communicating with drivers who are hard of hearing.
No matter your hearing levels, be safe out on the open road!