About one-third of people ages 65 and up experience some range of hearing loss. This percentage doubles for those who are at least 75 years old. The average person who recognizes that they have hearing loss usually waits seven years until seeking treatment, and a fraction of those who can benefit from hearing aids actually wear them. This means that there are many drivers on the road who cannot hear very well.
It is not illegal to drive when you have hearing loss (in the U.S., some states have car requirements for those who are hard of hearing), but that does not mean that it’s safe. According to a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, older adults who have hearing loss performed poorly on their driving tests if they had more distractions than those who do not have a hearing impairment. This study suggests that the extra effort needed in order to hear adds extra stress to your brain, and you need to use multiple senses in order to safely navigate on the roads.
Hearing loss causes mental fatigue. It’s harder to be a safe driver when you have hearing loss. If you’re tired, when you need to hear signals from other vehicles, and when you need to be fully aware of your surroundings there are a lot of risks involved.
Due to its gradual process, you may not know how severe your hearing loss may be. Other people who you interact with will probably notice your hearing loss before you do. Everyone should get their hearing tested each year. Anyone who is 55 and older should get a baseline hearing test, and then schedule regular checkups.
7 things that Drivers Should Do if They Have Hearing Loss
1. Work with a hearing instrument specialist. You may know someone who has hearing aids but doesn’t use them because they may feel uncomfortable or even distracting with whistling or feedback noises. Hearing aid technology has significantly evolved and continues to make more advancements. Patience is still needed during your initial fitting as you go from not being able to hear clearly, to hearing sounds that you haven’t heard in years. Proper follow-up appointments and maintenance is necessary in order to get the most use out of your hearing aids. It takes time to learn how to use the devices and program them so that they work for you.
2. Get an eye exam. If one of your senses begins to worsen, nerves connected to your other senses will become heightened. The ability to see is the most important sense to have when you drive. If your hearing is becoming worse, get hearing aids and a new eyeglass or contact lens prescription. It’s important to hear and see as best as you can when you drive.
3. Broaden your fields of vision. Since you are mainly depending on your ability to see, you have to be able to absorb as much visual information as possible. Use a clip-on, wide-angle rearview mirror to help you see and process your environment. There are some states, like New York, which mandate drivers who report that they have a hearing impairment to use a larger full-view rear view mirror.
4. Decrease background noise. Driving with distractions (i.e. music or traffic) will make it more difficult to notice important sounds that you need to hear in order to safely drive. Close your windows and reduce the volume on your car’s stereo in order to focus on driving. If you wear hearing aids, ask your hearing instrument specialist to program directional microphones or you can use a remote microphone accessory to hear your passengers without forcing them to shout at you.
5. Keep distractions to a minimum. This is a tip for all drivers, no matter how good they can hear, but it’s especially important if you are hard of hearing. Eliminate or minimize phone usage while driving. If you have to talk to someone while steering your car, hearing aids that have Bluetooth® technology can sync up to your smartphone to make calls easier and safer.
6. Make sure you have an easy-to-use navigation device. Everyone uses GPS to help them navigate while driving. Bluetooth®-enabled hearing aids can be synced up to your devices when it provides turn-by-turn directions so that it’s easier to hear. Install the GPS device or your smartphone onto a dashboard holder so that you can easily look at it without looking down. You may also use one of the Heads Up Display (HUD) apps, which projects the directions onto the windshield of your car, without blocking your view of the road.
7. Keep up with researching the latest technology. Automobile and hearing aid technology are always evolving. In the future, drivers who have difficulty hearing will have the assistance built into their car. Automobile manufacturers are in the process of developing technology that provides visual and vibration alerts (on the steering wheel or the seat) if emergency vehicles approach the car. Hyundai Motor Group made an announcement that its Audio-Visual Conversation and Audio-Tactile Conversion technology will be available for hearing-impaired drivers.
If you, or a loved one, is a driver who has difficulty hearing, for your safety, their safety and the safety of others, please get a hearing test. At Pure Sound, you can get a free hearing test and consultation with one of our hearing instrument specialists. We offer a variety of hearing aid styles and brands for a wide range of hearing loss.
Please be aware that our offices are only open by appointment and for essential visits at this time. If you are in need of hearing aid service, we kindly ask that you wait in your car, while wearing your mask, and place your hearing aids in a clean zip lock bag. We will come to your car to retrieve them. If you need hearing aid supplies, such as batteries or cleaning tools, please call us prior to stopping in at one of our offices.