Critter Corner: Driving Safely with Hearing Loss

Dear Ribbit,

My father has hearing loss and I fear that it’s affecting his driving. He gave me a ride to the airport yesterday, and we almost got into two accidents. Are their things that can be done to help someone with hearing loss drive more safely?

Thanks for your help!

S. “Carrie” Driver

Dear Carrie,

When people have hearing loss, it affects every part of their life: relationships, friendships, employment and their day-to-day activities, especially driving.

Some symptoms of hearing loss are obvious, such as asking people to repeat words, mishearing conversations, or having trouble hearing in noisy crowds. Other signs only crop up in certain situations. For instance, someone might not realize they have a problem until they’re driving a car and forget to flip off their signal after a turn.

Besides a turn signal blinking for an extended period of time, how else do you know if hearing loss is affecting your loved one’s driving?

· He or she might forget to buckle his seatbelt because the high-frequency ding of the indicator didn’t register;

· He or she might also miss an important maintenance issue or serious car malfunction — for example, a hissing radiator — because they’re unable to hear it;

· He or she might be unable to hear sounds that appear suddenly out of nowhere and have indeterminate origins (e.g., sirens and horn honking). If someone doesn’t hear a horn, for instance, they may continue on and have a crash.

Complicating matters is that people with hearing loss are often compensating by using more brainpower than they even realize, which can mean less attention to the matter at hand.

Tips on how to drive safely with hearing loss

Driving with hearing loss isn’t impossible — but it does require some adjustments, as well as awareness of limitations and potential pitfalls. Thankfully, there are some easy ways for people to stay safe while on the road:

· Drivers should set the radio volume to a manageable level;

· Drivers and passengers should keep car conversation to a minimum to avoid distractions;

· Drivers should be extra careful to look for obstacles — including trains, cars stopped in a lane, or the flashing lights of police cars or fire trucks;

· Families should install an extended rearview mirror to reduce blind spots;

· Drivers should familiarize themselves with their traveling routes beforehand, because having to focus on a voice-driven GPS can inadvertently draw attention away from the road;

· Drivers should keep a pre-printed card on hand with medical information in case they get pulled over or have an accident. For instance, you could take an index card and just write on it for your dad: “I am hearing impaired. I have severe hearing loss and difficulty communicating. Please look at me. Please face me. Speak slowly and articulate the words.”

Anyone who has severe to profound hearing loss should speak with their family, hearing health provider, or physician to make sure that it is safe for them to drive. Overall, people that suspect they might be developing hearing loss should visit a specialist and get tested, because early treatment is vital to preserving sound-processing skills.

Hope this is helpful,

Ribbit

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