A common question that we get from hearing implant recipients is, “Am I able to drive, legally, with my hearing implant?” In many cases, the answer is yes. But, because I know that some recipients might be apprehensive about driving (or just getting a driver’s license), here’s some information that you can use to learn about driving with a hearing implant.
Getting a Driver’s License
While there is a lot of confusion out there about driving and individuals with a hearing impairment, there is no evidence that having a hearing impairment means someone will have more accidents. In fact, studies have shown quite the opposite: on average, individuals with a hearing impairment are involved in car accidents less frequently than the other drivers.1
For someone with a hearing implant, receiving a driver’s license is often exactly the same as for someone without a hearing loss. That is, there are no exemptions or exclusions and the testing process is exactly the same. However, the exact process will depend on where you live, so if you have any questions make sure to ask someone from your local department of motor vehicles.
Of course, just like someone who wears glasses, it’s important to identify that you do have and use a hearing implant when applying for a driver’s license. This is because in certain countries (for example, Australia, France, Germany, Japan, and the UK) it’s required that any hearing loss is mentioned directly on the license. In other cases, the entire design of the license is different for someone with a hearing loss.
Not every country allows someone with hearing loss to drive a motor vehicle. In fact there are at least 26 countries that do not allow an individual with hearing loss to have a driver’s license, according to regional reports from World Federation of the Deaf.
The good news is, just because your country might not allow it now does not mean that this won’t change. A recent example is India, which in 2011 introduced legislation to allow individuals with hearing loss to obtain a driver’s license.
Tips For When Driving
For all drivers, hearing-impaired or otherwise, one of the most important tips is to keep your eyes on the road. But, there are some special tips to help anybody with a hearing impairment to drive safely.
Reduce noise as much as possible. The road noise (the sounds of the tires on the road, the engine, wind blowing over the car, and the brakes) can be as loud as 70 dB: louder than many conversations. Because of this, you’ll want to reduce noises everywhere else as much as is possible. You don’t need to try too hard: sometimes the simplest things, like keeping the radio turned down or the windows rolled up, are the most effective.
Don’t use the telephone while driving. In many places it’s illegal, and even if it’s not illegal in your area it can still reduce your concentration and shift your ears away from the sounds around you.
Pick up on visual cues. Use your eyes to look at how other drivers are behaving: are lots of cars suddenly moving over to the side of the road? This might mean that an emergency vehicle is approaching, even if you cannot hear it. Or do you see flashing lights ahead? Use these as an indication to slow down and pay attention for any sudden changes.
Take advantage of technology. Using an assistive listening device like a personal FM system, where someone wears a microphone that sends their voice directly to the audio processor, can amplify the sounds you want to hear and minimize any background noise. This can be especially helpful when learning to drive or taking your driver’s test, if it’s allowed, so that you can more clearly hear the instructor’s voice. You can learn more about assistive listening devices here.
Other devices might seem to have nothing at all to do with hearing. For example, add-on mirrors. These mirrors, which can come in different shapes and sizes like circles or long rectangles, can make it easier to see the world around you. Being able to see a sound source can help you to recognize the sound better and more easily than without seeing it.
Finally, make sure to keep your audio processor working. This is good advice in general, but especially for when driving. Carrying extra batteries with you can help your audio processor to keep working, so that you can keep driving in confidence.
If you are a hearing implant recipient, and have any questions about the rules and regulations for driving in your country, you can learn more by contacting your local department of motor vehicles or your MED-EL representative.
- Jokinen, M. (31 March 2009) WFD Statement on Deaf People’s Rights to Drive a Car or Other Vehicles. Retrieved from http://www.wfdeaf.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/WFD-Statement-on-Deaf-Peoples-right-to-drive-a-car-or-other-vehicles-updated-31-March-20091.pdf