Do You Need Your Hearing Aids to Drive?

In several states, we will need to upgrade our driver’s licenses to a federal Real ID by October 2020. Since my license was up for renewal, I decided to get a jumpstart on this and made an appointment at my local DMV.

Driving With Hearing Aids

An unexpected question

I was dreading the visit — hours of boredom standing in lines, the worry that I would not hear my name when it was called, and of course the photo — but I did not expect any thought-provoking questions. Filling out the forms in advance, one of the questions got me thinking. It asked, “Do you need a hearing aid to drive a motor vehicle?”

There was also a question about corrective lenses/glasses, but that was easy. While I can make it to the bathroom and back in the middle of the night without putting on my glasses, I would never attempt to run an errand to the store, let alone get behind the wheel of a car without them. I certainly need my lenses/glasses to drive.

But what about the hearing aid question? Did I need my hearing aids to drive? They certainly are helpful to hear honks, sirens, and cars passing and I do always wear them when I drive, but I don’t think they are required.

Most of the driving cues are visual — things like brake lights, turn signals, and traffic signs. With the radio blasting, I doubt people with typical hearing gather many clues from the sounds around them while driving either.

My hearing aids are a nice to have, not a must have when behind the wheel. I confidently checked “No,” but promised myself to wear them anyway. They certainly couldn’t hurt.

Driving With Hearing Loss Has Its Challenges

Driving with hearing loss can be challenging, however, especially if you are pulled over for a traffic violation. Many states are now printing special visor cards that people with hearing loss can use to communicate their hearing loss to police officers.

The cards typically declare, “I am Deaf or Hard of Hearing” in big letters at the top and may contain tips for communicating with someone with hearing loss below. Often there are pictures of driver’s licenses, registration cards, traffic lights, etc. to aid in communication. Here’s a great example card.

While driving, I always try to minimize distractions — keeping the windows up to reduce road noise and the radio at a reasonable volume. I will sometimes carry on a conversation while driving, but not often, since my eyes are preoccupied and therefore cannot be used for lipreading.

When I merge onto a difficult road, I ask the passengers to be quiet for a moment so I can concentrate my full attention on the task at hand. This is probably a good rule of thumb for any driver, but especially one with hearing loss.

DMV More Accessible Than Expected

My trip to the DMV was easier than I expected. When I arrived, I received a number on a piece of paper that was to be called when it was my turn. I was pleasantly surprised that there were multiple speakers throughout the room and that the announcements were clear and repeated more than once.

There were also screens throughout the waiting area that displayed the numbers that were called and where you should go to take your turn. This helped smooth my journey though the various stages of the process.

All in all, it was a fairly painless endeavor. My new license arrived a few weeks later. Now I just need to decide where to go on my next road trip.