Recommendation of Driving License for Hearing Impaired and Deaf Persons
- College of Otorhinolaryngologists and Head and Neck Surgeons of Sri Lanka is a professional body established to improve the knowledge and skills of the members of the profession.
- Though it acts in an advisory capacity to the Ministry of Health on matters on the allied fields, it has no established legal powers or binding.
- The college has contributed in the past, on several occasions, on the request of the Director General Health Services and the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles to revise the guidelines on issuance of driving license to hearing impaired persons.
- The college has considered the available scientific evidence and local circumstances on safety issues giving the best possible guidelines in the interest of all stakeholders.
- There are no proper local studies done on these aspects. Driving conditions and vehicle safety features are not comparable with the countries where hearing is considered nonessential for driving license.
- It is up to the legislature or Judiciary to decide on accepting, altering or refusing our guidelines for the safety and benefit of drivers, passengers, other road users and the properties involved.
- Therefore, the College or its’ members do not take any responsibility of safety or rights issues that could arise of any party involved in this matter.
Basis of Our Recommendations
Ability of driving a vehicle is mostly dependent on the visual, physical and cognitive ability of the person. However, the ability of hearing and communication cannot be completely disregarded in following instances.
- Ability to hear external warnings
- Sirens of approaching emergency vehicles
- Police commands given using whistles
- Horning of other vehicles, which is commonly used in local roads.
- Certain Railway crossings (unprotected or where alarm noise is the only warning / approaching train sound or horn).
- Sounds helps with special orientation in relation to other approaching vehicles.
- In- built audio warnings/assistance.
- Crash avoidance warnings.
- Cautionary warnings.
- Vehicle safety warnings.
- Audio vehicle/GPS assistance.
- Although many of these warning systems are dual warnings (Visual and auditory), auditory imminent crash avoidance warnings are considered superior to visual warnings in this multi-tasking process with high temporal demand.
- Driver’s ability to communicate effectively, in case of emergency or breakdown with passengers, law enforcement or support groups.
- Ability to hear unusual noises of vehicle/impending faults. (tyre/engine/belts etc.)
We have also considered the factors affecting hearing inside a vehicle find it to be dependent on the following
- Frequency and intensity of the source of noise.
- Distance, height and the angle from the source to the ear.
- Background noise.
- External – vary in urban and remote roads.
- Internal- audio systems, vehicle noises.
- Absorption and reflection properties of the environment.
- Attention of the driver.
- Sound proofing effects of vehicle.
The crash risk, multi-tasking skill and visual attention of a hearing impaired driver also needs to be considered. There are conflicting reports of the relative crash risk, multitasking ability and visual attention of deaf drivers in studies done abroad. No conclusive evidence is available in this regard.
When recommending driving license to hearing impaired and the deaf, we need to consider not only the rights and safety of aggrieved party but the safety of passengers, other road users and the property that could be involved as well.
Based on the above, we wish to recommend following amendments considering all these factors and worldwide trend.
- Driving a light vehicle for personnel use.
- Driving license could be recommended for persons with hearing impairment with the ability of reasonable verbal communication without any restrictions provided that they have no other medical conditions that could impair their compensatory strategies to overcome the hearing deficit.
- It is recommended to use a suitable vehicle fitted with visual or tactile warnings or additional panoramic mirror for assistance.
- Use of hearing aid is recommended for better communication.
- Driving/Riding license for motor cycles and three wheelers may be issued on the same basis for personnel use. However passenger transportation/commercial use is not recommended as the attention could be distracted.
- Deaf persons with limited verbal communication ability could be issued a driving license with a sign displayed on the rear of the vehicle to that effect for the safety and benefit of other road users in addition to above mentioned.
- They should be tested for their driving abilities in actual driving conditions and for the compensatory strategies in an emergency.
- Driving of heavy/ passenger transport vehicles
- Drivers of these vehicles should have at least 40 dB, aided or unaided (average 500-3000Hz) threshold in at least one ear.