Does hearing loss affect my driving skills?

Many of us take for granted the important role that hearing plays while we drive. Coupled with our vision, our hearing alerts us to the activity all around us, such as urgent oncoming of emergency vehicles or the sudden movement in traffic. In fact, in many driving situations, we hear important things before we even see them like the startling honk from another driver, a car travelling in our blind spots or the powerful engine of a motorcycle maneuvering through lanes.

Hearing impairment can significantly impact your ability to drive. It is a scary realization for those who do not want to give up their driving privileges and those with jobs heavily dependent on the ability to drive. This is one of the reasons why caring for our hearing health is so important.

In a 2010 study conducted by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 107 adults ranging from 62 to 88 years of age and with varying statuses of hearing health were instructed to drive on a closed-road circuit while reporting on the various road signs and avoiding the road hazards they encountered. The track was driven without distraction, then with auditory distractions and then again with visual distractions. The study found that those with a hearing impairment had a significantly poorer performance in the presence of distractions; they were less likely to avoid road hazards and took longer to complete the course.

What does this mean for drivers with hearing loss? It does not mean you are a bad driver! Aside from visiting a hearing health professional, there are a few tips that can help ensure your safety and the safety of others on the road:

  • Lower your speed when traffic situations become more difficult/complex/challenging
  • Look in your rear-view mirror and to each side more often
  • Keep your car stereo volume low
  • Always wear your hearing aids if you have them
  • Keep a safe distance from other vehicles
  • Pay attention to traffic signals, pedestrians and your blind spots

Drive safe and take care of your hearing health!