Without even thinking about it, we use thousands of auditory cues every time we drive. Obviously we hear horns honking and sirens coming, but we might also hear the engine of another car in our blind spot, or a bicyclist’s handlebar bell approaching to make a turn. We even hear squeaks and rattles coming from our own cars which help us identify maintenance issues in need of service. If you’re a driver and you’re having trouble hearing, it’s extremely important to get a hearing test and get fitted with hearing aids.
An Adjustment Period
If you’ve recently gotten hearing aids, it will take a while to get used to them. Fitment (programming) is an ongoing process, so you’ll need to wear them for a while and stay in regular contact with your hearing healthcare practitioner. Some things about hearing aids simply take some getting used to, some things require adjustment, and in some ways your brain might need to readapt to being able to hear again. This process can take a few weeks or a few months depending on your specific situation. However long it takes, make sure you feel comfortable and aware of your body’s position in space at any time you get behind the wheel.
Remembering to Use Visual Cues
If your hearing is somewhat impaired, you’ll naturally lean deeper into your ability to see. Since this is the case, be sure to set your eyes up for success! Keep glass cleaner and rags or paper towels in the car, so you can keep your mirrors and windows clean. If you wear corrective lens glasses, keep a microfiber cloth and cleaning solution in the car so you can make sure they’re clean whenever you get behind the wheel. If you use a cell phone app for navigation, make sure the phone is close to the normal line of sight for the direction of travel.
If you’re considering a new vehicle, make sure it has the sight lines you need. Some newer models of car have cameras and screens to assist the driver with reversing. While this is a good thing for you to have, also make sure the pillars on the car (the parts of the body of the car that hold the roof on, that you can’t see through) are not overly large. Some newer models have enlarged pillars, as though having the camera means that you no longer need to see out of the vehicle.
Also consider a clip-on wide-view mirror. This is a mirror that you temporarily install over your car’s stock mirror that extends to include your car’s blind spots. This can be a lifesaver for the hearing impaired. Especially as we age and our reaction times slow, being able to see our blind spots without turning our heads away from the direction of travel can mean the difference between safe passage and tragedy.
Keep the Sound Low Inside the Vehicle
Don’t have the radio overly loud. If you have a passenger, turn the radio off while you converse. Keep the windows up; if this seems counterintuitive, you’ll see how having them down significantly increases wind noise, making it more difficult to focus on other sounds. If you have noisy passengers, ask them to quiet down. Just tell them, “I need to hear the road.”
Keep Up With Automobile Technology
If you’re shopping for a new car, take a look at what technologies are available. Our vehicles’ computer systems are becoming more sophisticated, so ask if there are options that integrate with hearing aids. The Hyundai company unveiled technology last year that uses artificial intelligence to identify sounds outside the car and present visual warnings to the driver. This technology is not yet being employed in commercial vehicles, but it will be soon.
Use the Technology You Have
Your hearing aids may have Bluetooth technology to integrate with your cell phone. You can use a map app with your hearing aids so the app will “speak” the directions aloud directly into your hearing aids. If you’re traveling with a passenger, perhaps your hearing aids have an integrated directional microphone you can ask your passenger to speak into, since you won’t be able to rely on lipreading.