People with hearing loss can’t drive.
“Turn left?” I ask, as my hands grip the steering wheel, my knuckles white. The cool, fall air coming through the open window in the driver’s seat ruffles my hair.
Oscar, my driving instructor, sighs in exasperation and raises his feeble hands from his lap to point.
“No, no, turn-” The wind picks up, making an almost roaring sound against the cochlear on my left ear and the rest of his sentence fades away.
“What?” I turn my head to face him, frustrated.
His eyes widen, and he presses the brakes on his side of the car. My body jolts forward in the seat.
“You almost ran the stop sign!” His hoarse voice whispers. I turn my head back, and sure enough, we were braked right before a stop sign that I didn’t see.
“Can we pull over?” I ask, my hands still tense on the wheel.
That was my first lesson with my driving instructor, Oscar, as I was practising for the road test. It was also the first time I’ve ever been in a car.
Reading that, you would think that people with hearing loss actually can’t drive. In reality, this is what happens when someone with hearing loss doesn’t advocate for themselves – frustration, miscommunication and, in this case, an almost accident.
Looking back, I should have handled that differently. Let’s break down the situation.
Mistake #1: The window was open.
If the window is open when I’m driving, especially on the side where my cochlear is (left side), the sound of the wind, the cars on the road and other outdoor noises make it almost impossible for me to hear the passenger in the car.
I didn’t account for that because that was my first time in the car, and my mind was more preoccupied with the fact that I was controlling the vehicle rather than trying to see what I could and couldn’t hear.
Next time, the window stayed shut.
Mistake #2: I took my eyes off the road.
The first thing I always do when someone starts talking is that my eyes go straight to their lips. I automatically observe how their mouth moves when they talk so I can easily pick up on what they say moving forward.
You obviously can’t do that while driving. It took me a while to override the automatic instinct of looking at the passenger while they are talking and to keep my eyes on the road.
Mistake #3: My instructor was too quiet.
Oscar was kind, old man. He was about a year or two away from retirement, and I probably gave that man a couple of almost heart attacks with my driving habits. Sorry Oscar.
Oscar was also very, very, veryyy quiet. Anything he said came out in a delicate whisper. I spent most of my time with him straining to hear his instructions, and more than half the time, I heard them wrong.
What I should have done was ask him to speak up, but I was too shy and afraid of coming off as rude.
Mistake #4: I was too quiet.
When I got into the car for my first lesson with Oscar, I didn’t tell him about my hearing loss. I figured that he didn’t have to know.
I didn’t account for the fact that my cochlear was on the side facing the window, and my deaf right ear was facing him. I also didn’t account for the fact that he was going to be very quiet.
When I pulled over at the end of the lesson, I told him about my hearing impairment, and he was very understanding. During our other lessons, if I couldn’t hear him, I asked him to speak a little louder.
Needless to say, the lessons were smoother moving forward.
The Driving Test
When the time came for my driving test, I was still a very nervous driver. I barely practised outside my lessons with Oscar, and my parking skills were awful (they’re still not that great now honestly).
That definitely played a part in why I failed the test. Another part was that, I didn’t let the driving test examiner know about my hearing loss. The examiner was also a bit on the quiet side, and got annoyed when I asked her to repeat every single step she said (I wanted to make sure that I was obeying the right instructions).
Regardless, I was an awful driver and didn’t deserve my license at the time.
Tips on Driving Tests with Hearing Loss
- Before the test, do a test drive and take note of what you can and cannot hear.
- Tell the examiner about your hearing loss. This will help clarify why you’re asking them to repeat their instructions. They will not penalize you for having hearing loss – they will penalize you if you’re a bad driver.
- Practice driving. Practice outside of those driving lessons, and make sure that you are confident behind the wheel. This will eliminate some of the nerves during the test.
I followed my own tips above – I practised a lot, I was honest and communicative about my needs, I finally learned how to park (sort of), and I got my license.
Do you have any other tips about how to handle a driving test with hearing loss?