How much do you rely on your hearing when you drive? Probably more than you know. Although your sense of sight is undoubtedly the most important when behind the wheel, your sense of hearing helps you detect approaching emergency vehicles, hear the blaring horn of an impatient driver or reminds you that your turn signals are engaged. While people with hearing loss don’t drive any worse than those with normal hearing, it never hurts to be prepared and take extra safety precautions.
Get treatment for your hearing loss
First of all, if you aren’t hearing as well as you used to, find a qualified hearing healthcare professional and have your hearing evaluated. You may just have a bad cold or obstruction in your ear that can be removed, but if the diagnosis is hearing loss, follow your professional’s recommendation for treatment.
The right treatment might be hearing aids, especially if you’ve developed sensorineural hearing loss. Not only can hearing aids amplify the important sounds you hear on the road, they can also keep your auditory system healthy so your brain doesn’t forget how to interpret other sounds in your environment.
Today’s hearing aids are technological marvels, with sensitive microphones designed to discriminate between speech and background noises. Yet even with hearing aids, you’ll want to eliminate distractions while you’re driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving claimed almost 3,500 lives and injured more than 390,000 people in 2015 alone. Here are a few tips to keep the distractions at a minimum:
- Maintain your hearing aids. Feedback from hearing aids is a major distraction, regardless of your activity. Be sure to tell your hearing healthcare professional whenever you are having problems. Sometimes, all it takes is a slight adjustment or cleaning to improve their functions.
- Reduce the volume on the car radio. Not only is keeping volume low good for your remaining sense of hearing, you’ll also have more mental energy to concentrate on other noises around you, especially those important for your safety. Here’s a tip: adjust the volume before you set out on the road so you don’t have to fiddle with the controls while the vehicle is moving.
- Ask passengers to keep the conversation quiet and to a minimum. While it’s always fun to be part of the conversation, participating in any activity other than driving means your attention isn’t fully focused on the road.
- Keep the car window closed to minimize road noise. Today’s vehicles are built to reduce road noise, which is good news for those with hearing loss. Anytime you can reduce the variety of noises competing for your attention, the better you’ll be able to hear the ones you need to.
- Focus on driving, which means everything else -- like texting, eating or applying makeup -- can wait until you reach your destination. You already know this and have probably said it out loud a time or two to your children or grandchildren. Make this a habit for safety’s sake as well as to model good driving behavior to your young family members.
Rely on visual clues
Once distractions are minimized, you’ll have more capacity to focus on the information you’re ears are collecting along the way. Here’s how your eyes can help you:
- Just as you do your hearing, have your eyes examined annually and wear prescription eyewear when you drive. This is important for your safety on the road as well as those who share it with you.
- Consider investing in a larger rearview mirror. These accessories are available online and range in price from $10-$60. Some states, such as New York, require drivers who wear a hearing aid or can’t pass the hearing test to use a full-view rearview mirror. Check with the Department of Motor Vehicles to see if the same restriction applies in your state.
- Look for flashing lights on approaching vehicles and at railroad crossings. In the city, use building windows and other reflective surfaces to warn you of approaching emergency vehicles. Check your rearview mirror frequently (and safely) for vehicles approaching from behind.
Where the rubber meets the road
Whether you hear well or have some degree of hearing loss, driving comes with a lot of responsibility. That means anytime you improve your driving skills, you reduce the risk of becoming an accident statistic and help make our roads safer. Reduce distractions, rely on visual clues and, above all, find a hearing healthcare professional who can help you hear your best when you’re behind the wheel as well as when you’re not.