Travelling by car

6.a. As a driver
6.b. Communicating with a passenger if you are a deaf driver
6.c. As a passenger
6.d. Breakdowns
            6.d.i   Breakdowns in general
            6.d.ii  Breakdowns on a motorway
            6.d.iii Breakdowns off a motorway

6.a. As a driver

1. There thousands of deaf drivers including many totally deaf drivers. (Indeed there are a number of totally deaf heavy goods vehicle drivers.) So you are definitely not alone. Deaf drivers are often very good because they know they have to be extra alert and so they concentrate on the road.

2. Many deaf drivers said that because they may miss warning sounds that hearing drivers rely on (e.g. sirens, horns, etc) it is necessary to remain very vigilant and drive carefully.  

3. Some drivers say that they use their car mirrors more than before they started to lose/lost their hearing in order to check what is happening on the road more effectively.

4. One person said, “I try not to worry that locating fire engines, etc. is difficult. I tell myself that all drivers find it difficult to locate the direction of fire and police sirens, not just deaf drivers. There are a lot of hearing drivers with their radios blaring so they must hear very little (and often nothing) outside their car and they don’t worry at all.”

5. Another person said, “Since I lost my hearing suddenly I find driving a bit frustrating as I can no longer hear the engine.  I’m learning to “feel” the engine and the differences in vibrations at different speeds so I know when I need to change gear.”

6. Some people said that because they can’t hear the engine, they find using the “rev meter” helpful for knowing when to change gear.

7. Some deaf drivers use the speedometer for helping to tell when to change gear – a rough guide on a LEVEL road is:

up to 10 miles per hour (mph)   – 1st gear
between 10 – 20 miles per hour – 2nd gear
between 20 – 30 mph                 – 3rd gear
around 40 mph                            – 4th gear
over 50 mph                                – 5th gear

It is important to remember that this changes on hills and if there is a heavy load in the car.

8. Some drivers found it helpful to get panoramic rear-view mirrors which give a wider range of view than ordinary rear-view mirrors.

9. Some deaf drivers find that Satellite Navigation (Sat Nav) has helped them enormously. 

(Sat Navs are navigation systems that use information from satellites orbiting the earth.  The information can be used by portable units in a vehicle to navigate to a given location.)

One person said, “I used to have great trouble hearing my partner giving directions when reading the map.  Since I got my Sat Nav the visual maps and directions have been a great help.”

(Editor’s note: Please note that Sat Nav’s are not infallible and sometimes (rarely) lead you down dead ends!  A road map is recommended as a back-up when using a Sat Nav, just in case!)

10. Some drivers keep a list of “communication tips” or Hearing Concern Link ’s “Communication Card” handy in the car in case they are stopped by police or other officials. This explains how the officer can ease communication with the deaf/hard of hearing driver.

In America some drivers use a “visor card” which explains that the driver is deaf and how people can help and is kept attached to the visor so it is easily accessible.  It is intended for use when stopped by police and explains why the driver may not hear spoken orders.  If you would like to view this click on the following link:  It can be printed out if you feel this could be of some use to you or you could use it to develop your own “communication tips” to keep in the car.

As police in America are armed, the idea of having it on the visor is so that they don’t think you’re reaching for a gun (as you reach for the card) and shoot first!

If you are driving in a country that doesn’t have armed police, you might prefer to keep the card in the glove box so as not to advertise the fact that you are deaf every time you have the visor down.

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6.b. Communicating with passengers if you are a deaf driver

1. Some deaf people say that they don’t find driving itself a problem at all, it’s understanding their passengers that they have difficulty with.  Some people keep pen and paper in the glove box and ask passengers to write things down if it can’t wait till the next traffic lights.

2. I recently got a loop system specifically for the car.  I find it helpful both when I’m driving on my own – for listening to the radio, and when I’ve got passengers – it helps to pick up their voices and cut out the engine noise. (See Chapter 6 on Environmental aids for information on how to obtain a car loop system) 

3. One person said, “I keep a small blackboard and a piece of chalk so that my wife can write down important messages. The blackboard is easier to see when driving than a piece of paper, and the grandchildren enjoy it when we’re not using it.”

4. Some people also use a magic-board.  (You write on the plastic sheet with your finger or blunt stylus and the writing appears on the sheet, when you raise the sheet, the writing disappears.)  These can be found in toy shops and re-used many times.

5. Some people said that they use their portable listener e.g. Crescendo to hear what others in the car are saying. They give the microphone to the passenger who is speaking, or if there is more than one passenger, they either pass the microphone to each other when they want to speak or the person with the microphone relays what the others say.   

Some people also found that they could use their portable listener to help listen to the car radio/tape/CD.

(Note from Editors: Please note that for safety reasons, the personal listener should sit in a pocket or somewhere where it will not cause injury by flying into people during an emergency stop or rapid braking.)

6. Some people find that they can hear the others talk if the radio is turned off.

7. Several people said that they can hear speech better within the enclosed space of a car than when they are in a large room.

8.  Many people find that they can hear better in the car when the windows are closed.  When they are open all that hearing aids usually pick up is the wind noise.

9. One person said, “As a deaf driver I let at least one passenger know that I am deaf and I ask them to sit in the front passenger seat so they can keep me in the conversation.”

10. Other deaf drivers said that they let all the passengers know that they are deaf and tell the passengers how they can help.

11. For safety reasons chatting to passengers if you need to lipread or turn to hear them does not go well with driving:

  • Some people said that as a deaf driver they don’t talk to the passengers so that hopefully they won’t talk to the driver and he/she can then concentrate on the driving. They explain why before they set off so they don’t appear to be ignoring the passenger. 
  • One person said that as they cannot hear conversation they avoid trying to communicate while driving and try to make all necessary decisions before setting out.
  • Somebody else said, “If I am driving I ask people not to talk to me. Though if I have a car full and they all chat it does make me feel like the chauffeur. Considerate passengers don’t chat but if they do they tell me at traffic lights or at the end of the journey what they have been chatting about.”

These sorts of strategies may not suit everyone.  One person using one of the above strategies said, “I am trying to learn to live with being excluded from conversation and being treated as the chauffeur. I hate being treated like this.”

12. Some people have found it useful to warn people before setting off that when they are driving they cannot hear or lipread what is being said to them.

13. Some people said it can be helpful to ask people to repeat what’s been said when the vehicle stops. 

14. When I’m carrying passengers, I tell them they can chat to each other, but I won’t be able to follow – and that I’d like to be given a summary at the end.  Some of my friends are quite happy to do this.

15. As a deaf driver I ask people not to speak to me unless we are stationary, such as at traffic lights because I can’t lipread and watch the road at the same time.  I explain that I am not being rude if I stop them because the lights have changed to green again.

16.  When I’m driving to somewhere new and my husband is navigating, he uses hand signals that we’ve agreed on to tell me which way to go.  I find this much more relaxing than having to turn to lipread him – and it’s safer, too!

17. All passengers should avoid talking to a hearing impaired driver if s/he cannot hear without taking eyes off the road. It would therefore be a matter of courtesy if the passengers didn’t talk between themselves.

18. Many deaf or hard of hearing drivers have an extra mirror fitted onto their windscreen so that they can lipread the person in the front passenger seat without having to turn to face them.

Some drivers also have another mirror arranged so that they can see the passengers in the back.

19. I keep a pencil and pad in the car in case I get stopped by the police or have to ask directions.  It can also be useful if I have a hearing passenger who wants to tell me something whilst I’m driving.  They write it down and I read it when we stop at the traffic lights.

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6.c. As a passenger

1. A lot of people said they try to keep the car windows closed in order to reduce the background noise.

2. On long journeys some people have found their TV listener useful for “homing in” on the speaker’s voice.

3. Some people who lipread said that as the passenger they sit in the front so they can understand what the driver says and turn round to watch what the back seat passengers say. Some also said that if they sit in the back they miss everything which is said in the front. 

4. Some people with some useful hearing prefer to sit in the front and, despite the belt, half turn and listen to those at the back. It depends on the noise of the car engine and the speaker involved whether or not they can hear.  Some also use a personal listener.

5. One person said that they prefer to sit in the back and have a nap whilst the others have a chat.  That way, they said, they get to their destination feeling refreshed instead of tired after struggling to concentrate.

6. As a passenger I lipread from the side. (I sit on the side in the lipreading class and practise.)

7. One person said that as they have only one hearing aid they try to make sure that they sit so their hearing aid is next to their companion to better pick up their voice.  

8. I have a little mirror with a suction backing and I then place this on the windscreen or dashboard so that I can lipread the driver better.

9. I turn my aid down so that I can hear the conversation better, but less of the background noise.

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6.d. Breakdowns

Naturally we all hope that we won’t break down whilst we’re out and about in the car.  But just in case, you may find the following information useful:

6.d.i Breakdowns in general

Some drivers keep a list of “communication tips” or a spare “communication card” handy in the car in case they need to communicate with people during a breakdown.  This explains how the speaker can ease communication with the deaf/hard of hearing driver.

6.d.ii  Breaking down on a motorway

All emergency phones on motorways and major roads are fitted with an inductive coupler for hearing aid wearers who have a T switch. (An inductive coupler is a small version of a loop system that fits in the earpiece of the phone.)

Emergency roadside telephones which incorporate a textphone (see 1. below) facility are being installed throughout the country on motorways and some major roads, but it may be a while before all phones have this facility.

Some motoring breakdown organisations such as the RAC and the AA can now be contacted by SMS text message (see 2. below) from a mobile phone if you are deaf and are a member. The number to call for the AA is 07900 444 999 and for the RAC it’s 07855 82 82 82.  If you belong to another breakdown organisation it may be worth asking them if they have or intend to have this service in the near future.

It is worth remembering that sending SMS text messages is not “real time” communication.  It can take a while for some messages to get through. So if there isn’t a reply reasonably quickly you may need to try again or find another way of contacting them. 

There are two meanings of the word “text” when talking about phones:

  1. Textphones are phones specifically designed for people who are deaf or have problems using a voice phone.  The deaf person using the emergency phone will either be connected to another textphone at the other end or the call will be routed through Text Relay.  In either case, the deaf person will see the other person’s message on a screen and can either type or speak their reply.
  2. Text messaging on a mobile phone is when a short message is composed on the handset and sent via the mobile phone’s network.  This is sometimes called SMS (Short Message Service). 

For more information about phones for deaf people see Chapter 6 on environmental aids.

One person said, “When I recently broke down on the motorway I found I couldn’t hear the operator on the emergency phone at all.  I then told the operator I couldn’t hear and told them my name, car registration number, where I was and what the problem was and then repeated everything again to make sure.  Very soon a police patrol car was with me and he stayed with me until the breakdown services arrived.”

6.d.iii  Breaking down off the motorways

All new public payphones are now fitted with inductive couplers for hearing aid wearers who have a T switch. (That doesn’t mean to say that they all work!)

If you have found a payphone or have a mobile with you but find you cannot hear what is being said probably the best thing to do is to tell them your name, where you are, description and registration of your vehicle and what your problem is and repeat everything at least twice and stay on the line.