Drivers of private vehicles are allowed to drive while deaf, although they should be advised by an audiologist regarding any limitations because of their deafness. Hearing aids, sensors and other means of warning drivers can help. However, it is suspected that drivers with hearing loss adapt other methods of observation because they are aware of their disability. This might include an increased sensitivity to vibration or to things happening in their peripheral vision. A driver that’s had a sudden onset of deafness might need some time to adjust to this and may be advised to drive only in certain circumstances.
Driving a commercial vehicle while deaf
Responding to critical events is important for drivers of commercial vehicles who may be in charge of a heavy and long truck with a greater stopping distance and less manoeuvrability. Scenarios where being deaf is a disadvantage is low-speed manoeuvring, railway crossings and emergency vehicle sirens.
For this reason, drivers of commercial vehicles must meet a hearing standard. The first stage is for an employer or the driver to identify that the driver needs to have a hearing assessment.
If the person has unaided hearing loss greater than or equal to 40dB (decibels) in the better ear, averaged over the frequencies 0.5, 1, 2 and 3 kHz then they will need to obtain a conditional licence. If the driver chooses to wear a hearing aid and the standard is met, the driver licensing authority may still consider a conditional licence, subject to periodica assessment and the continued use of the hearing aids.
If the person has unaided hearing loss greater than or equal to 40dB and they wear a hearing aid but it doesn’t bring them up to standard, the doesn’t mean they can’t drive, but they will need to have an individual assessment with an ear, nose and throat specialist or audiologist. These specialists will make a judgement based on:
- the person’s medical history (e.g if the driver was deaf as a child, they may have developed excellent compensating mechanisms)
- the person’s driving history (if there are any incidences relating to the loss of hearing)
- the type of driving that will be done (e.g. bus, truck) and on what type of roads over what distances
- the ergonomics of the driving cab
- other medical challenges the driver might have, such as vision impairment or cognitive impairment.
Use of hearing aids for driving is possible but drivers need to be aware that it can cause sudden, startling loud sounds.