Keep your eyes on the road. Obviously, it’s good advice, but it doesn’t speak to your other senses. Your ears, for instance, are doing a lot of work while you’re driving, helping you keep track of other vehicles, calling your attention to information on your dashboard, and keeping you connected with the other passengers in your vehicle.
So how you drive can change if you’re experiencing hearing impairment. That doesn’t automatically mean you will have to stop driving because you’ve become overly dangerous. When it comes to safety, inexperience and distracted driving are far bigger liabilities. Still, some special safeguards need to be taken by individuals with hearing loss to ensure they keep driving as safely as possible.
Hearing loss can impact your situational awareness but acquiring safe driving habits can help you stay safe while driving.
How your driving may be effected by hearing loss
Generally, driving is a vision-centered activity (at least, if it’s not a vision-centric activity, something has gone wrong). Even complete hearing loss most likely won’t keep you from driving, but it very likely could change how you drive. After all, you use your hearing quite a bit while you’re driving. Some typical examples include:
- Your vehicle will often make audible noises and alerts in order to make you aware of something (turn signals or unbuckled seat belts, for example).
- Your hearing will often alert you when your car has some kind of malfunction. If your motor is rapping or you have an exhaust leak, for instance.
- Other drivers will often honk their horns to alert you to their presence. For instance, if you start drifting into another lane or you don’t go at a green light, a horn can clue you in to your mistake before dangerous things happen.
- Even though most vehicles are engineered to reduce road noise, your sense of hearing can raise your awareness of other vehicles. For instance, you will usually be able to hear a large truck coming your way.
- Emergency vehicles can often be heard before they can be seen.
By using all of these audio cues, you will be building better situational awareness. As your hearing loss progresses, you may miss more and more of these cues. But there are measures you can take to ensure you stay as safe as possible while driving.
Practicing new safe driving habits
If you’re dealing with hearing loss and you want to continue to drive, that’s okay! Stay safe out on the road using these tips:
- Put away your phone: Well, this is wise advice whether you have hearing loss or not. Today, one of the leading reasons for distraction is a cellphone. And with hearing loss that distraction is at least twice as much. You will simply be safer when you put away your phone and it could save your life.
- Keep an eye on your instrument panel: Typically, when you need to pay attention to your instrument panel, your vehicle will beep or make some other sound. So you’ll want to be sure to glance down (when it’s safe) and confirm your turn signals aren’t still on, or you don’t have a check engine light on.
- Minimize in-car noises: Hearing loss will make it difficult for your ears to differentiate noises. It could be easy for your ears to become overwhelmed and for you to get distracted if you have passengers loudly talking and music playing and wind blowing in your ears. So when you’re driving, it’s a good idea to decrease the volume on your radio, keep conversation to a minimum, and roll up your windows.
- Pay extra attention to your mirrors: You may not be able to hear an ambulance pull up behind you–even with all those sirens going. So make sure you aren’t neglecting your mirrors. And generally try to keep an elevated awareness for emergency vehicles.
Keeping your hearing aid ready for the road
Driving is one of those tasks that, if you have hearing loss, a hearing aid can really help. And there are a few ways you can make sure your hearing aid is a real asset when you’re driving:
- Keep your hearing aids clean, updated, and charged: When you’re half way to the store, the last thing you want is for your battery to quit. That can distract you and might even create a dangerous situation. So keep your batteries charged and make sure everything’s working properly.
- Every time you drive, wear your hearing aid: If you don’t use it, it won’t help! So every time you drive, make sure you’re wearing your hearing aids. This will also help your brain get used to the signals your hearing aid sends your way.
- Have us dial in a driving setting for you: If you anticipate doing a fair amount of driving, you can ask us to program a “car” setting on your hearing aid. This setting will be adjusted for the interior space and setup of your vehicle (where, normally, your conversation partner is beside and not in front of you), making your drive smoother and more enjoyable.
Hearing loss doesn’t mean driving is a problem, particularly with hearing aids which make it easier and safer. Your drive will be enjoyable and your eyes will stay focused on the road if you establish safe driving habits.