Fit to Drive: Does Hearing Loss Affect Your Driving Skills?
Hearing loss has an impact on many areas of your daily life. Driving a motor vehicle is an important right, but if you can’t hear, can you maneuver a car without putting yourself and others at risk? Find out how hearing impairments can impact your ability to drive safely and what Australian legal standards say about obtaining and retaining a drivers license as a motorist with severe hearing loss.
Hearing impairments are a common problem among Australians. Nationwide, about 3.6 million people suffer from hearing loss. By the time most people notice a change in their hearing, they’re used to relying on motor vehicles to get them from point A to point B:
They drive to work, doctor’s appointments or the grocery store, day in, day out.
If you or a loved one are suffering from a hearing impairment, you may wonder how diminished hearing can impact a person’s driving skills, in the short and long-term.
Fitness to drive depends on a variety of factors, such as a person’s overall level of fitness, their physical and mental health, and of course, potential alcohol and drug consumption. You know that you can’t drive a car under influence. Hearing is more of a grey zone when it comes to driving safety.
Observational skills are essential and auditory abilities fit into that category. But there are plenty of individuals out there currently driving with different levels of hearing loss. And for most of them, not much will have changed. A good driver is probably still a good driver. With or without hearing loss. They may be more visually aware of their surroundings and drive more carefully. A bad driver who has always been driving recklessly will most likely be just as dangerous on the road.
But, whilst hearing loss may not affect your driving skills directly, it may affect your fitness to drive in other ways. To gain some clarity in the matter, we’ll have to take a closer look at the facts. So let’s dive right in!
Can a deaf or severely hearing-impaired person drive?
The difference between deafness and severe hearing loss
It is a popular opinion that deaf people can’t drive and that their poor hearing is a risk to themselves and others on the road. And yes, hearing loss can put extra demands on the driver as they need to be more alert to visual information.
Fact is, many people with significant hearing loss are able to drive as a normal hearing person would. Here is what that may look like:
A deaf person is unable to hear sounds and can therefore not rely on their hearing. For them, recognising speech or sounds is impossible. Instead, they rely on sign language and visual information such as the reading of lips, and people’s facial and body expressions to communicate.
When a deaf person is driving, they can’t hear the siren of a police car or ambulance. But, there are ways to work around this problem. Some people with hearing disabilities may have electronic devices installed in their car. These devices use light signals to alert the driver. Others simply rely on visual cues, such as the behaviour of other drivers around them or the flashing lights of emergency vehicles. Mirrors that enhance the rearview are providing additional support to those who are hard of hearing.
Are you still concerned about deaf drivers on the street? Studies indicate that deaf drivers are no more likely to be involved in car accidents and can see better than hearing people, which is likely to be a great advantage on the road.
Severe Hearing Loss
Someone affected by severe hearing loss may still understand some speech and use it in combination with visual information. They may also wear appropriately fitted hearing aids or have a cochlear implant to help them hear.
Driving with severe hearing loss is not much different from driving deaf, except for the fact that a person suffering from mild to severe hearing loss may use auditory cues in addition to the above-mentioned techniques.
How do you know if you are deaf or have a severe hearing loss?
The only way to find out is to have a hearing test with a hearing health professional. The results will show if you suffer from hearing loss, what degree of loss, and how that may affect you in your everyday life. Using these results, your audiologist can provide you with recommendations on suitable hearing solutions, such as hearing aids and cochlear implants.
Don’t ignore hearing problems! If you do, you’ll have more issues down the road. It is scientifically proven that your hearing and brain health are directly linked. Untreated hearing loss can lead to a range of health issues, including dementia.
Young and Old are Affected
Not only senior people suffer from hearing loss and still drive their cars. Growing numbers of young Australians have significant hearing loss, often as a result of excessive noise exposure. But, whilst seniors and professional drivers are undergoing regular tests to monitor their hearing health, young drivers tend to ignore the fact that their hearing may influence their fitness to drive.
Hearing Standards For Licensing
Each licensing authority in Australia has requirements that you need to meet in order to be granted a drivers licence. It’s always best to speak with a licensed Audiologist or with your GP, to discuss any concerns around hearing loss. Don’t skip out on your next hearing test, it can determine whether you need further audiological assessment to ensure you’re fit to drive.
Be aware: You may get into trouble if you continue driving without notifying the authorities of any changes you have become aware of. The Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads advises that you “notify [them] if after you get or renew your Queensland driver licence you develop a permanent or long-term medical condition, or if you have a permanent or long-term increase in or other aggravation of a medical condition that is likely to affect your ability to drive safely”.
Private and Work-Related Driving
Whilst you can still obtain a private drivers license, deafness or hearing loss may affect your ability to drive commercial vehicles. In order to drive commercial vehicles, you’re required to meet a hearing threshold, as assessed by a hearing health professional.
A joint publication of Austroads and the National Transport Commission Australia (NTCA) published in 2017 looked into the subject of assessing fitness to drive for commercial and private vehicle drivers in relation to hearing loss and deafness.
”Hearing loss will not preclude driving a private car, people with hearing loss should be advised regarding their loss and their limited ability to hear warning signals. Assistive technologies such as hearing aids, sensors and/or physical equipment such as additional mirrors might also be used upon consideration of the needs of the individual driver”.
Austroads and the NTCA advise that all commercial driver segments and public passenger vehicles must meet a hearing standard. However, if the hearing standard is not met, it does not automatically disqualify them from driving.
Instead, they may apply for a conditional licence. A conditional licence may state that the driver has to wear their hearing aids when driving and have periodic hearing tests with an accredited Audiologist to review their hearing and the hearing aids functionality.
Wrapping it up
Researchers across the globe agree that a deaf or significantly hearing impaired person is able to safely drive a vehicle. Data shows that people with reduced hearing are not any worse at driving cars than others. Yet, researchers continue to stress the importance for all drivers over the age of 50 to get regular hearing tests.
Being able to drive is important for all of us. Holding a current drivers licence is essential to your mobility and overall health and well-being. But ignorance towards hearing loss can be dangerous. Having difficulty hearing may place you and others at risk.
Take a hearing test today and stay a safe driver
You should consider having a hearing test if you plan to drive and at any time have concerns about your hearing abilities. If you’re unsure as to whether you can hear as well as you used to then it’s definitely time to get a hearing test.
If you’ve previously been diagnosed with a hearing impairment and drive a car for private purposes, don’t forget to regularly consult with your Audiologist and get a check-up.
As the leading Australian hearing healthcare provider, Attune has more than 70 clinics across Australia. Contact your local clinic today and book an appointment for a hearing assessment with one of our highly-skilled Audiologists.
Our team is looking forward to meeting you.