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Can Deaf People Drive?

Contrary to popular belief, deaf people can drive in states like California, but there are some additional considerations regarding licensing.

By Contributor

Can Deaf People Drive

Can Deaf People Drive

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Good hearing is helpful behind the wheel, as you can hear when other drivers sound their horns and when emergency vehicles approach. So, does that mean that deaf and hearing-impaired people can’t drive?

Not at all. In fact, deaf people are allowed to drive in all 50 states. However, there are some important considerations regarding accessibility, as well as challenges that deaf drivers can face.

Safety Considerations for Deaf Drivers

Sight is the most important sense when it comes to driving. That should go without saying. Being able to hear also helps, but it’s not a necessity. Some have even argued that deaf drivers are more capable than hearing drivers because when one sense goes, the others become more attuned. In other words, they are not distracted by the sound of the car horns or the radio and pay more attention to what’s going on around them.

Here are some of the concerns that deaf drivers have and the ways they are typically addressed:

Speaking with the CA DMV

In most cases, there are TTY (teletypewriter) and TDD (telecommunications device for the deaf) numbers and interpreters available for hearing-impaired drivers. In California, the TTY for the CA DMV is 1-800-368-4327, and free interpreter services are available via the following:

  • 1-800-735-2929 (TDD phones)
  • 1-800-735-2922 (voice phones)

Can’t Hear Sirens

Although a deaf person can’t hear sirens, that’s not really a prerequisite. If it were, car radios would be banned or at least volume restricted. After all, when the music is turned up so high that you can feel the bass, there could be a traveling brass band behind you and you wouldn’t hear it.

Deaf people do what everyone else does in this situation—they look for visual cues. If they see the flashing lights in their rearview, they can assess the situation and react accordingly.

Can’t Hear Car Horns

In 2019, Hyundai announced a new technology designed for deaf drivers. It combined Audio-Visual Conversion (AVC) and Audio-Tactile Conversion (ATC) technologies to help deaf drivers. Simply put, it used a heads-up display (HUD) in combination with lights on the steering wheel to warn drivers of sounds such as car horns and sirens.

4 years later, if you search for this technology, you’ll find those same press releases, as well as the video made to go along with them. There has been no announcement concerning when they will be implemented.

There are after-market options for increasing the sound of turn signals and providing other alerts, but we’ve yet to reach the stage of commercially-available sci-fi HUDs with the sort of visual cues found in a video game (or a Hyundai commercial).

Hearing car horns is not essential if the driver is attuned to their surroundings, though. A car doesn’t need to warn you that you’re getting too close if you can see that you’re too close. And let’s be honest, 99% of the time car horns are used more as a mechanical middle finger than an actual warning. We could all do with hearing less of those.

Legal Considerations for Deaf Drivers

Deaf and hard-of-hearing drivers follow the same application and licensing process as hearing drivers. The only difference is that they must contact the DMV and inform them of their hearing difficulties. The DMV may then place a restriction on their license, requiring either full-view mirrors or a hearing aid.

The hearing aid ensures that the driver’s maximum hearing capacity is utilized while the mirrors (inside and outside) give them more visibility and make it easier to spot hazards and emergency vehicles.

Communication and Interactions with Law Enforcement

Deaf drivers can see police sirens and an approaching police car. But what happens when the officer gets out of the car and starts shouting orders, only to assume they are being willfully ignored?

Unfortunately, this is a cause for concern for deaf drivers and there are many stories of deaf drivers who have been harmed and even killed for not complying. In Idaho, a man was arrested after running a stopping sign and failing to heed an officer’s warning while a Colorado driver was tasered and jailed for 4 months.

Some deaf people keep cards that explain their situation. These should be kept in clear view or easy reach, such as on the visor.

Sign language and other cues can also be used, but it’s important to stay calm and get the message across without sudden movements. Keep both hands visible at all times, remain still, and try to gesture that you can’t hear, such as by pointing to your ear and shaking your head.

Make a “writing” gesture to indicate that the officer can communicate with you by writing. You can also include this information on your deaf card. The police can provide their own materials for this. There’s no need to keep them in the car, as you may be tempted to reach for them and that could aggravate the situation.

FAQs about Deaf Driving Laws

Can deaf people drive a commercial vehicle?

The requirements for obtaining a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) are set by the United States Department of Transportation (DOT). Currently, these requirements include a hearing test. The driver must be able to hear a forced whisper in their better ear at no less than 5 feet (with or without a hearing aid).

Is it safe to drive deaf?

A number of studies have noted that deaf drivers are no more at risk than hearing drivers. They usually have very safe driving records and this has been known for a number of years. In fact, Sherman Finesilver, a Colorado judge, first brought this to the public’s attention back in the 1960s and was instrumental in changing public opinion on the matter.

How many states refuse a driver’s license to deaf people?

All 50 states allow deaf people to drive, provided they pass the usual licensing procedure. This hasn’t always been the case, but you have to go back many decades to find a time when multiple states banned deaf drivers.

Summary: The Facts about Deaf Drivers

To summarize, deaf people can drive in all 50 states and it’s fairly easy for them to do so. There are some impaired driving restrictions (including the use of full-view mirrors and hearing aids), but they have the same freedoms as other drivers.

What’s more, if manufacturers like Hyundai continue working on devices that we’ve glimpsed in the past, it will get easier for those with hearing issues to drive safely.

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