Hearing loss is more prevalent in the U.S. than many people realize. Today, almost ten percent of all drivers have some kind of hearing loss. According to the AARP, “A third of people over age 65 have some degree of hearing loss — a percentage that doubles among those 75 and older.”

Life with hearing loss can make things more complicated than they are for the average person, even making some things downright impossible. However, driving is not one of those activities.

There’s a common misconception that people who are deaf or hard of hearing are incapable of driving safely, but the truth couldn’t be more different. Today there are even deaf truck drivers, proving that even if you live with hearing loss, it doesn’t have to affect your ability to quality of life on the road. While it is quite feasible to drive with hearing loss, it has been shown that drivers with hearing issues are more prone to distractions behind the wheel than those with average hearing.

However, thanks to development and technology, those who are hard of hearing can still drive safely. It just takes a few extra precautions, which Bankrate has outlined here.

Driving for the hard of hearing

When you are driving with hearing loss, there are some tips that can help you make it home safely.

Preparing to drive

Have a visor card.

A visor card is a helpful tool designed to notify policy enforcement that the driver of the vehicle has hearing loss. These cards include several graphics and traffic-related imagery that you can point to, enabling you to better communicate with others.

There are two versions available:

  • The Deaf Visor Card for those who identify with the Deaf community and communicate via American Sign Language (ASL), and;
  • The Hard of Hearing Visor Card for those who identify with the hearing community and these drivers rely upon speechreading and hearing aids, in addition to spoken English.

Obtain the appropriate license.

Several municipalities allow for special concessions and modifications for drivers who are deaf or hard of hearing, such as specially marked driver’s licenses. Before you hit the road, check to see what options are available for your local area.

Remove distractions.

It’s especially important that drivers with hearing loss eliminate any and all potential distractions on the road. This means closing open windows and turning down the radio or turning it off completely. Ask passengers to refrain from conversation and eliminate any distracting activities while the vehicle is in motion. It’s especially prudent for teen drivers, who are very easily distracted.

Avoid communicating with other drivers.

Communication can take a little longer when you are hard of hearing, especially when signing or reading lips. When driving, don’t turn to other drivers to read lips or sign, and instead focus on your own safe driving.

Make a plan.

One of the best ways to stay safe is to make a plan in advance. Ensure that you share your route and destination with a loved one, along with estimated arrival and destination times. If anything were to happen, ensure someone will know to look for you.

Watch a training video.

Before you get on the road, watch this training video from the ACLU. It contains critical tips and demonstrations, which shows in detail how to respond to traffic stops when you are deaf or hard of hearing.

What to do if you are pulled over

If you are pulled over by law enforcement, stay calm, follow any instructions given by the officer, and when able, follow these tips.

  1. Keep the visor card handy.
    Your visor card is of little help to you when it’s lost in a purse or stashed in a bookbag. Keep it clipped to your visor where you grab it quickly in an emergency.
  2. Show the visor card.
    Unclip your visor card, and place it on the steering wheel where it is visible. When the officer approaches your vehicle, point to your visor card, and let the officer know that you are hard of hearing or deaf.
  3. Have pen and paper.
    Don’t take it for granted that the officer will have pen and paper. Instead, make sure that you always keep a few blank notepads with some extra pens that you can quickly and conveniently reach in an emergency.
  4. Follow instructions.
    Pay close attention to the officer, and follow the instructions given. A failure to comply can be seen as resisting arrest and could lead to a serious miscommunication.
  5. Communicate.
    If you are confused or do not understand, let the officer know. You should tell them that you are deaf or hard of hearing and request that they write down any communications so you can better understand.

Tips for safe driving

When you are deaf or hard of hearing, there are some tips for safe driving so you can avoid getting pulled over or being involved in an incident.

  • Get regular vision checks.
    When you are hard of hearing, your eyesight is more important than ever, so make sure you take care of your eyes. Visit your optometrist regularly to check your vision, and be sure to always adjust prescriptions as necessary.
  • Keep your car in tip-top shape.
    Pay attention to your car, and treat it with extra care with regular car maintenance. Most drivers know to take a car into the shop when they hear unusual sounds, but because you may miss these noises, it is crucial to be especially prudent about car repair and maintenance.
  • Invest in the right mirrors.
    Sharpen your vision on the road with special mirrors to benefit those drivers who are hard of hearing. Invest in a set of extra-wide side-view mirrors that will allow extended viewing of normal blind spots around the vehicle.
  • Use AI technologies.
    The Digital Age has given birth to many new revolutionary technologies, such as talk-to-text and spoken notifications. Some car manufacturers are taking it even further. For example, Hyundai is able to identify exterior noises around your car and communicate them to the driver via its Audio-Visual Conversion (AVC) and Audio-Tactile Conversion (ATC). Subaru’s EyeSight is another program, watching for lane department and traffic movement. Today, many manufacturers have also incorporated collision-avoidance systems to lower the number of motor vehicle accidents on the road each year.
  • Rely on visual cues.
    When you can’t benefit from auditory cues, that means your eyes are that much more important. Pay particular attention to visual cues, searching for and identifying emergency lights, such as the hazard lights of surrounding passenger cars or the flashing lights of an emergency vehicle.
  • Make your GPS accessible.
    Your GPS navigation system can be one of the greatest aids you have on the road, so make sure it’s visible. Mount it somewhere it is easily visible and will not compete with your view of the road, such as on or near your dashboard. Many programs have special settings you can to tailor settings to those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  • Consider the use of Bluetooth aids.
    Today, there are Bluetooth hearing aids that you can use to make you safer on the roadways when you are hard of hearing. Bluetooth hearing aids can sync to your GPS, using your vehicle’s audio system to provide turn-by-turn directions for your trip.

Knowing your rights

Many types of laws and legislation are designed to protect the deaf and hard of hearing community.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA is perhaps the most comprehensive piece of legislature protecting those who are deaf and hard of hearing. “Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people who are deaf or hard of hearing are entitled to the same services law enforcement provides to anyone else,” the ADA writes. “Law enforcement agencies must make efforts to ensure that their personnel communicates effectively with people whose disability affects hearing. This applies to both sworn and civilian personnel.”

The ADA also protects drivers by preventing car insurance companies from increasing insurance costs simply due to hearing loss. While this doesn’t prevent drivers from increases due to all rate factors, it does provide basic protections to ensure that you are not discriminated against simply because you have hearing loss.

Adaptive Driving Program

The Adaptive Driving Program is designed to provide special support resources for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. There is permit test tutoring available, along with exclusive driver’s education resources specifically designed for you. Many drivers also modify their vehicles with special devices or technology that improve driver safety, and the Adaptive Driving Program offers several resources available to help. However, this program is available at specific locations in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) helps provide support from a young age, giving free, age-appropriate services from birth to 21 years of age. This can include hearing aids administered by the student’s school, plus educational support that can come especially handy to teen drivers.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504

This act ensures that no person who is hard of hearing is discriminated against because of a disability. The legislation protects all programs and activities that receive federal funds and requires that they provide reasonable accommodations, which can include things like transportation, interpreters, and assistive devices.

Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA)

HLAA provides hearing-related educational and auditory resources with regular programs and events. It also provides a full detailed listing of state chapters and other local organizations that can help in your specific area.

Translator support

There are tons of apps specifically designed to help those who have difficulties with their hearing. If you are pulled over, these apps can help you properly communicate, so there are not any unnecessary issues or confusion.

Program Name Compatibility Cost Description
InnoCaption+ Android, Apple Free Funded by the FCC, Innocaption will provide real-time captioning with the support of live stenographers.
SpeechTrans Android, Apple, Desktop Free Enjoy text translation and text to speech with integration for over 1,000 apps, plus interpreters.
Rogervoice Android, Apple Free Receive real-time subtitles for phone, video, and verbal communication in more than 100 languages.
Sound Alerts Android, Apple Free Teach your phone to detect common, everyday noises, so you don’t miss alerts when your phone is in detection mode.
SoundPrint Android, Apple Free Like Yelp, you can scope out your area establishments ahead of time by sorting by noise level, filtering between quiet and very loud.

Bottom Line

For the approximate 48 million Americans who have some sort of hearing loss, driving can and is a very real option for daily life. Technology and education have made for new improvements and developments that keep drivers safe on the road, regardless of partial or even complete hearing loss.

Legislature in 2021 provides a plethora of resources and tools to educate businesses and services on the challenges of hearing loss, with several new apps and services incorporating new features and programs specifically designed to enhance the lives of those in the deaf and hard of hearing community.

Helpful accessories like visors cards, in addition to traditional tools like pen and paper, can give drivers the support they need, helping them to effectively communicate with law enforcement and other drivers they may encounter on the road.

There are enough challenges that come with hearing loss; driving doesn’t have to be one of them.