May a deaf person drive a car?

Not everyone is allowed to drive a car. Of course, only drivers with a valid driving licence can do so. And of course, they must be properly insured.

But when is your driving licence valid and when are you sufficiently insured?

The most important thing seems to be the driving licence, as you can only benefit from your insurance rights if your driving licence is in due order. You obtain the driving licence by first passing the theory test. Then you follow a practical training course in order to pass the practical test.

Are you sure that your driving licence is or will remain valid after that? No. There are actually not two, but three exams to pass. There is a third condition that every driver of a vehicle for which a driving licence is required must fulfil. This third condition concerns health. In other words, it concerns medical aspects. Someone who is visually impaired can only get “a medical approval” under very strict conditions. Does this also apply to someone who is hard of hearing?

The answer is "no". The medical criteria set by law do not include conditions for hearing. This is not so surprising. Indeed, it is estimated that almost 90% of the information processed while driving is processed visually. Hearing information is proportionally much less important. And often what you hear in traffic also corresponds to what you see.

It is necessary to nuance the statements somewhat. There are no conditions regarding hearing, but there are preconditions regarding balance. These two functions are anatomically linked. But someone who is “only” deaf or hard of hearing should not by definition be worried about getting a driving licence.

Thus, while there is no need to worry about the validity of the driving licence, getting it in the right form can be a challenge.

Learning the theory is something that every candidate driver should do. However, a person who is hard of hearing or deaf does not benefit from verbal instructions and explanations, or to a lesser extent. As a result, he or she is more limited in communication possibilities compared to hearing candidates. The average candidate answers both written and oral questions. The deaf or hard of hearing candidate does not.

At first glance, this disadvantage may seem rather limited. However, it plays a more important role in the next phases of obtaining a driving licence. The importance of verbal communication during the practical training and the examination is not to be underestimated. As for learning to drive, you will be supervised by your instructor while you drive. You can therefore drive and listen at the same time, without having to take your eyes off the road. For the hard of hearing or deaf, it is different! What the hard of hearing or deaf candidate "hears" from the instructor, the hard of hearing or deaf candidate usually has to read it on the lips and/or use sign language or writing. Both forms of "visual communication" require a change of sight and are therefore potentially dangerous. This is an undeniable disadvantage.

This also applies during the examination. The examiner usually gives instructions orally. The deaf or hard of hearing person is also affected in this case. Any additional straining on the visual system puts them at a disadvantage.

Of course, there are creative solutions. For example, we know that during the examination, you can use light strokes to indicate the desired direction (one stroke to the left, two strokes to the right). Physical touch is only possible when both communication partners feel comfortable. Systems where the instructor or examiner types messages on a tablet, which are then displayed on another medium that is easily visible to the candidate, can also be considered. This is a less invasive privacy infringement, but it is more "visually" demanding.

To put it briefly, a candidate who is deaf or hard of hearing can get his or her driver's licence, but this represents an additional challenge.

"But if deaf and hard of hearing people are not necessarily dangerous drivers, why are other drivers advised not to drive while listening to loud music? It's the same situation, isn't it? »

The two situations are not exactly comparable. People with a hearing problem use their other senses more effectively to compensate for the possible disability. On the other hand, noisy music disturbs attention; in other words, it is a source of distraction. Hearing impairment does not have this "cognitive" disadvantage.

Mark Tant, PhD
head of CARA, Vias institute


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