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   ASLU:  "Deaf Drivers"

By Meher Abrar

Deaf Drivers

Driving is also one of the leading causes of deaths worldwide. Statistics show that in 2013, there were 1.25 million road traffic deaths globally. It is no big secret that driving requires attention and as cognitive function is limited in its ability to perform multiple tasks, one can logically conclude that doing something else while driving will substantially increase the chance for error.

Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of road accidents. Texting, talking on the phone, messing with car controls etc., are all distractions and are obviously, a danger to the driver and other road users. Many safety laws have been imposed over the years to try and improve road safety. Back in the early 1900s , as the number of motor vehicles and consequently the number of road accidents increased, new safety laws were being introduced. One of the results of which was that Deaf people had to fight to protect their driving privileges. In the 1920s states banned deaf drivers from being able to own or operate a motor vehicle. Today, however, that is not the case but still, a lot of hypothetical situations need to be considered, one example being; If a Deaf driver used ASL to communicate with a passenger, it would be a great risk to road safety, but there is nothing stopping two people who are not deaf to look at each other during a conversation while driving and that would also be as great of a risk (Zodda 2012).

One can't help but think that although being a visual task, driving may require the ability to hear someone honking or to hear an ambulance siren. However there have been insufficient studies in this area. There have been only a few studies over the years to answer whether the ability to hear is necessary in order to operate a vehicle. Earlier studies from 1961 seem to indicate that deaf drivers are no more of a risk than drivers with normal hearing, however, a more detailed study by Coppin and Peck in 1964 presented the view that deaf drivers do in fact have more accidents than the non-deaf. This was based on the assumption that loss or absence of hearing would eventually, at some point, result in deterioration of driving safety. In their report, Deaf and non-Deaf drivers were matched on age, sex, occupation, mileage driven, and area of residence. Results showed that deaf male drivers were involved in a significantly greater number of accidents than non-deaf male drivers. However, there was no difference in the statistics of Deaf and non-Deaf women drivers. This study was inconsistent in the sense that many of the people used to conduct the study were provided by an organization and may not have been a true representative of the deaf population's driving skills. Also, if Deafness were an impairment to driving, it would not be gender specific.

Henderson and Burg (1974) used truck drivers with hearing disabilities, but not completely deaf, as a basis for their study. The results seemed to conclude that those with a greater level of hearing loss were associated with lesser accidents.  These two studies, although being the most extensive, still have many inconsistencies and factors, which render them inconclusive as to provide a definitive answer.

One study in 1968 (Schein) showed that in Washington, DC, the Deaf had fewer accidents, but one major factor was that the Deaf population here was older, and so had more experienced drivers.  Some recent scientific studies seem to indicate that Deaf people have greater peripheral vision which suggests that in an everyday driving experience, Deaf people are better off in terms of driving safety and enjoy an advantage over non deaf drivers. Although driving is predominantly, a visual task, (Sivak, 1966) there is not enough comprehensive research yet to answer whether hearing is, or should be a prerequisite for operating a vehicle. Even with the current lack of evidence, The Americans with Disabilities Act Affords the same rights to deaf drivers as non-deaf drivers. Also, "The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) stresses that deafness does not in any way limit a person's ability to drive a car or other vehicles. Consequently, a Deaf driver does not constitute a risk for safe traffic." More extensive studies should be conducted in this area, keeping in mind to not repeat the errors and inconsistencies of the previous studies so as to produce a more fruitful and accurate result.





Hamilton, Pierce T. (November 2015). Communicating through distraction: A study of Deaf drivers and their communication style in a driving environment (pg17-22). Retrieved from


Deaf Heritage. (chapter 20, pg 448) Retrieved from


Ker, Than (October, 2010) Why the Deaf have Enhanced Vision. Retrieved from


Medical Conditions and Driving: A Review of the literature(1960-2000) Retrieved from


Henderson, Robert L. (1974) (pg 11-15) Retrieved from

(Pages 1-5) Retrieved from


(March 2009) WFD Statement on Deaf People's right to drive a car or other vehicles. Retrieved from


World Health Organization (2015) Retrieved from

Also see: Driving and the Deaf


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