4 tips for driving with hearing loss

driving with hearing loss

There’s a myth that deaf people can’t drive… I’m not sure why people think that.  I would say that we definitely CAN drive and drive very well.

Driving can be be more challenging with a hearing loss, as it requires more visual concentration, but there are some techniques that make it easier. 

Here are four common scenarios and tips that I’ve found make it easier to drive with hearing loss:

Read more: How I’m learning to drive despite my hearing loss

Sirens and Emergencies

I think the biggest worry for deaf drivers is not being able to hear when emergency vehicles and sirens are approaching.

Driving is all about being aware of what’s going on around you. Check your mirrors often and always be alert to your surroundings. If you have have a hearing person in your car, you could ask them to listen out for you during the journey.

There are some vehicles, like Kia Motors, is testing a ‘smart assistant system,’ system which alerts drivers when important sounds are going off around them. They use lights and vibrations for alerts, such as sirens and horns, and for audio, like when a person is talking, it is automatically translated into sign language and displayed for the driver to see. The Kia program is just a concept for now, but it would be so helpful, especially for myself to have this in my car in the future!

Communication in the car

It’s already hard enough for people with hearing loss to communicate, but being a deaf driver and trying to have a conversation in the car is virtually impossible if you rely on lip-reading. Instead of having awkward silences, try installing a lip-reading mirror. I have one in my car that sits on the dashboard and allows me to see the passenger speaking. I can only lipread short sentences because it’s more important to have my eyes on the road. The only difficulty I have is if people sit in the back of my car and I can’t lipread them.

Technology such as the Phonak Roger Pen is also very useful in the car, as the passengers can speak into the wireless microphone, and their voices stream directly to hearing aids. It’s also very useful in connecting your technology in the car, such as your cell phone, so you can be hands-free and more focused, but still have the ability to communicate. 

“As I’m a frequent traveler who spends many hours alone in the car, it was important for me to be able to keep in contact with those closest to me,” says Eloise Garland. “Despite having a hands-free system, the engine and road noise is too overwhelming to maintain a phone call, which is where my trusty Roger Pen comes into play! Connecting my Roger Pen and mobile phone via Bluetooth is incredibly easy, giving me and my family peace of mind that I will be able to answer calls quickly and safely. When my phone rings, I just press the green ‘answer button’ on the Pen and start the conversation – the person’s voice will stream directly through my hearing aids, cutting out all that engine and road noise that used to ruin it for me.”

Read more: My 5 Favorite Ways to Use My Roger Pen

If you use sign language, users can adapt ways of understanding each other by signing simply by putting their hands out in front so the deaf driver can see, but it can be difficult when responding, as some sign languages require two hands and they should be holding the steering wheel instead of signing! Sometimes it might be best to chat before setting off. You can pull over safely if an important conversation is to be held.

Other vehicle reactions

It’s often a question as to whether you need to hear people honking. I was taught that should anyone honk, it’s only in a dangerous situation where a warning is needed. Most people just do it out of annoyance, or because they’re impatient.

If you always try to stick to the Highway Code (or equivalent) and drive well, this should reduce the incidence of other motorists needing to honk their horns. If the honk was important, the driver would probably flash their lights too, and I always look out for body language as sometimes you can tell by their gestures as to what they are trying to say. Also, being visual is key – watching out for their driving maneuvers or flashing lights. Problem-solving skills are good, just remaining calm and working out what to do, but keeping yourself safe at the same time.

Getting pulled over

We all fear getting pulled over by the police, but it’s best to be prepared in case it happens. I’ve heard stories of deaf people trying to communicate in sign language with the officers, but being misinterpreted as not being calm and possibly resisting arrest when they are just trying to communicate

Should you ever get pulled over, make sure you stop in a safe, well-lit place. When the officer comes over, only open your window a little bit and ask them for ID. If your window is closed, the policeman might not understand or hear you. Once you’ve seen their ID, you can tell them that you have a hearing loss. It’s often good to have a ‘deaf visor card,’ which explains that you are deaf and your preferred method of communication. This instantly helps them to understand, and it would be up to them to make themselves understood.

Do you have any tips for driving with hearing loss? Let us know in the comments!

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Ellie Parfitt
Ellie was born profoundly deaf, uses verbal communication, lipreads and wears Phonak hearing aids. She is currently learning British Sign Language. Ellie hasn’t let her disability stand in the way and embraces every new challenge. Her deafness didn't prevent her from achieving major accomplishments in her life, such as excelling in her education, working as a Marketing Executive for a Spa & Health Club, Events and Promotions Staff for a local newspaper as well as blogging for Hearing Like Me. She is passionate about deaf awareness, campaigning for equality and helping others through her personal blog as Deafie Blogger.

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It’s good to know how to drive with hearing loss. That’s something I noticed in myself recently, but I still need to drive. I’ll take your advice and just be more alert and check my mirrors more often.

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