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Learning to drive in my 50s with hearing loss

driving with hearing loss
I learned how to drive when I was in my 50s with hearing loss. If I can do it, you can too!

Learning to Drive

Around 20 years ago, I decided to learn to drive. My instructor considered me to be something of a late learner. I was in my thirties and found it difficult, to say the least. Plus, my instructor was younger and had an aggressive attitude. I remember well him punching my left leg during the first lesson to emphasize not moving it away from the clutch pedal area. And this wasn’t even learning how to drive with hearing loss.

The learning to drive phase didn’t last too long. I gave it up as a bad job, deciding that I would never be one of life’s drivers.

About Face

Fast forward to the present time. Here I am, making a complete about face as far as driving is concerned. Throughout the intervening years, I have been a happy pedestrian, or so I thought. The truth is somewhat different. I assumed that I had no other choice. Of course, I always did.

I think part of my reason for never thinking that I could drive was because of health issues. Recently I have become fitter than I’ve been in years. As a direct result of my newfound fitness, I have been able to come off all of my medication.

I was still put off to begin with because of my hearing loss. I even had to check that this wouldn’t stop me from driving. It seemed very likely when I considered the way deafness was often treated by the mainstream hearing community. That may sound foolish to all of you experienced deaf drivers out there, but I wasn’t too sure.

Game Changer

I found out that hearing was not an issue. And as long as I always wore my glasses (without which the world is a blur) when driving, all would be okay. That was a game-changer.

The idea came about because of a throwaway comment my wife made during a conversation one morning. We were talking about how unreliable our public transport had become in our part of the world and wishing we had a car. I heard myself saying the immortal words, “Why not?”

Not exactly words to inspire, but we began to talk about the possibility over the next few days. It gradually became a cast-iron reality. Within a week I had booked my first lesson, though not without a certain amount of nervous trepidation. I mean, not only had I not driven for over 20 years, but I would also be driving as someone with hearing loss and all the challenges that can bring.

“…not only had I not driven for over 20 years, but I would also be driving as someone with hearing loss and all the challenges that can bring.”

PR Hilton with ADI Instructor Iain Hall

First Lesson

Early on during my first lesson, I told my instructor Iain that I had hearing loss and wore two hearing aids. His reaction surprised me. Instead of being taken aback, he was quick to tell me that it would make no difference in my ability to drive. He also said that he had noticed one of my aids, but hadn’t thought to mention it because he didn’t consider it an issue – unless I did. My eyesight was far more interesting to him. Iain then went on to admire how small my hearing aids were and said he might need one himself in the not too distant future.

I asked what his thoughts were on mature people learning to drive. His reply really made me feel that this was something I could accomplish. He said, “If you think that you’ve left it too late to learn to drive, think again. It’s never too late. Although learning anything new as we get older is often more challenging, learning to drive can be fun, exciting and ultimately, very rewarding.”

He went on to tell me that he — together with his wife Lynne — has taught mature pupils between the ages of 30 and 90. This placed me in a good position on the age scale, being a quite young-ish 56.

Both Lynne and Iain are Approved Driving Instructors (ADI) This is a term used in the UK for an instructor or trainer of car driving. This is someone who has been fully tested and registered by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).

Driving with Hearing Loss

Inside the car, I am quite insulated from the outside world, hearing-wise. I can hear things, but my eyesight is more important anyway. I find that with my hearing aids, I can hear very well in this particular environment. My nervous feelings regarding my hearing aids were in fact completely groundless. My nerves regarding learning to drive were perfectly sound, however.

I have since had a number of lessons, and find myself enjoying the whole experience. One morning I forgot my hearing aids and managed to get through an entire lesson without any problems at all. My hearing loss is mild to moderate, and my good hearing is in the lower area. My male driving instructor having a lower register voice probably helped.

Read more: 4 tips for driving with hearing loss

I wouldn’t choose to drive without my aids, because they do give me access to a whole variety of in-car sounds, including the engine noises and its changes. These sounds and other external ones are beginning to make sense to me, as a new driver. I’m also aware that my hearing aids will be able to give me advance warning of things as emergency vehicle sirens. That being said, I hardly think I would be able to miss their flashing lights, even if I missed hearing the siren.

Go for It!

Being an older learner driver, I expect to need more lessons, but that is not the point. In a relatively short time, I’m going to be the holder of a full license. I’ll be able to drive unaccompanied in my own car, with all the freedom that it offers.

So if you’re like I was, feeling that the whole idea of driving has quite literally passed you by, think again. If you happen to have hearing loss, don’t let that be a barrier to your driving dreams. My advice is: Just go for it. That’s what I did. I’m just loving the whole driving experience. You can too.

Do you have any tips on learning how to drive with hearing loss?

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Author Details
Phonak hEARo, Phil is an author, journalist and therapist, living on the beautiful North Yorkshire coast with his wife Raine and their three children. Phil was diagnosed in 2016 with mild to moderate Sensorineural hearing loss in both ears and tinnitus. He uses Phonak silver digital hearing aids with automatic volume controls.
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Phonak hEARo, Phil is an author, journalist and therapist, living on the beautiful North Yorkshire coast with his wife Raine and their three children. Phil was diagnosed in 2016 with mild to moderate Sensorineural hearing loss in both ears and tinnitus. He uses Phonak silver digital hearing aids with automatic volume controls.
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