Safe Driving With Hearing Loss

Oct 11, 2023
Fact Checked
Unlock the road to safe and confident driving for older adults with hearing loss through empowering tips, technologies, and proactive measures.

Key Takeaways

Driving, a symbol of freedom and independence, is a skill many cherish. But as we age, it becomes crucial to address potential safety challenges. Older adults may experience changes in vision, hearing, reaction time, cognitive function, mobility, or medication which can all impact the ability to drive safely. In this comprehensive guide, we shed light on an often-overlooked aspect of safe driving: hearing loss.

It’s expected one of every four licensed drivers will be an older adult by 2050. [1]Pomidor, A. Clinician’s Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers. American Geriatrics Society. 2019. Found on the internet at A study found people with moderate to severe hearing impairment had poorer driving performance in the presence of distractions than those with normal to mild hearing loss. [2]Hickson, Louise, et al. Hearing Impairment Affects Older People’s Ability to Drive in the Presence of Distracters. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. June 2010. Found on the internet at’s_Ability_to_Drive_in_the_Presence_of_Distracters But research is limited, and there are resources available and modifications you can make to ensure you’re driving safely even with hearing loss.

This guide explores the challenges of driving with age-related hearing loss, its impact on driver safety, and, most importantly, the knowledge and resources needed to confidently continue your journey on the open road. Remember, the key to a fulfilling life on wheels lies not only in recognizing challenges but also in taking the necessary steps to overcome them.

Can I drive safely with hearing loss?

Many people who are hard of hearing can still drive safely, and there are no laws against driving with hearing loss or full hearing impairment. [3]Feldman, Joel. Yes—The Deaf (And Those With Hearing Loss) Are Allowed To Drive And Do So As Safely As Hearing Drivers. Dec. 12, 2023. End Distracted Driving. Found on the internet at

The prevalence of hearing loss among older adults

Hearing loss is a common issue as we age, affecting approximately one in three people 65 and older in the United States alone. [4]Age-Related Hearing Loss (Presbycusis). National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Updated March 17, 2023. Found on the internet at,than%2075%20have%20difficulty%20hearing. While the natural aging process is a significant cause, other factors, such as exposure to loud noises, genetics, and certain chronic diseases, can contribute to hearing loss as well. And not all drivers with hearing loss are aware their hearing ability has declined.

Is driving with hearing loss safe?

Yes, driving with hearing loss is generally considered manageable, though some states may require certain conditions to be met, including:

Rachel Magan Faivre, AuD, owner of Oklahoma City-based Ash Audiology, added: “Another concern is people who have a dead ear, or no usable hearing in one ear. Even if the other ear has normal hearing, if one ear doesn’t work, then you lose the ability to localize sounds, which becomes important when locating sirens, horns, or a person or animal calling out.”

It’s important to note driving while deaf is legal in all 50 states, though some states may enforce some requirements, including requiring deaf and hard of hearing people to inform their local motor vehicles department of their impairment, have full-view mirrors in and outside their cars, take driving lessons after obtaining their permit, and wear hearing aids. [8]Can Deaf People Drive? San Diego Magazine. June 7, 2023. Found on the internet at

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Sue Keiss, 59, of Denver, Colorado, has moderate hearing loss in both ears due to chemotherapy medications. She feels her hearing aids make her a perfectly safe driver. “I always wear my hearing aids when driving and have not had any issues. I can hear horns and sirens,” she said. “My doctors have not mentioned or asked me about driving.”

The NHTSA assessment:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers an online self-assessment tool to evaluate a person’s fitness to drive safely. This comprehensive evaluation covers hearing and vision capabilities, physical fitness, and reaction time. Taking this assessment can provide valuable insights into your driving abilities and potential areas for improvement.

How age impacts driving ability

While driving is a skill honed over years of experience, it’s essential to be aware of the various factors associated with aging influencing our capabilities on the road, including:

  1. Vision changes: Aging can lead to changes in vision, such as decreased visual acuity, sensitivity to glare, and reduced peripheral vision. Difficulties detecting road signs, recognizing pedestrians, or seeing objects in low-light conditions can pose challenges while driving. Night vision declines with age, making driving at night more challenging for older adults.
  2. Reaction time: As we age, our reflexes may slow down, affecting our ability to respond quickly to unexpected situations on the road. This slower reaction time can increase the risk of accidents, especially in high-traffic or complex driving scenarios.
  3. Cognitive function: Aging can also affect cognitive abilities, including memory, attention, and decision-making, making it important to minimize distractions while behind the wheel.
  4. Mobility and flexibility: Physical changes, such as reduced muscle strength and flexibility, can impact our ability to control a vehicle effectively. Turning the steering wheel, pressing pedals, or looking over your shoulder when changing lanes may become more challenging.
  5. Medications and health conditions: Certain health conditions become more prevalent with age, and the medications used to manage them can have side effects affecting driving ability. For example, drowsiness, dizziness, or impaired coordination can compromise road safety.

The importance of adaptive strategies:

Despite these age-related changes, it’s important to emphasize many older adults can continue driving safely by employing adaptive strategies. Regular health check-ups, vision tests, and hearing assessments are essential. Furthermore, staying physically and mentally active and attending defensive driving courses can help compensate for many age-related challenges.

How to drive safely with hearing loss

As we prioritize safety on the road, especially for older adults with hearing loss, taking proactive steps can significantly enhance driving abilities and confidence. Let’s explore a checklist of essential actions to ensure safe driving with hearing loss. [9]Clason, Debbie. How Does Hearing Loss Affect Driving? Updated Dec. 29, 2021. Healthy Hearing. Found on the internet at

Talk to your doctor

Have an open conversation with your doctor about your hearing level and any concerns you may have regarding your ability to drive safely. Maintain regular check-ups at the recommended intervals to monitor your overall health and fitness for driving.

Check your eyes and ears

All drivers should be mindful of their vision and hearing health. Some strategies to increase your driving safety include:

Review your medications

Schedule periodic medication reviews with your doctor to assess for any interactions or side effects with the potential to affect your driving abilities, such as drowsiness or heightened anxiety.

Optimize your vehicle for your eyesight

Sight is the most important sense for driving. You can optimize your vision by following these tips:

Control noise and distractions

Reducing distractions is a key to safe driving at any age. Ways to reduce excess noise and distractions include:

Plan for hearing fatigue

Recognize hearing loss can be mentally fatiguing, requiring extra energy to pay attention to signals and surroundings. You can help manage hearing fatigue by:

Take a safe driving course

Enroll in a driving safety course designed for older adults to refresh your driving skills and learn valuable strategies for safe driving. AAA offers a RoadWise Driver course for older adults, which covers driving techniques and the latest technologies. The National Safety Council offers an Online Mature Defensive Driving Course. Individual states also often offer driver safety courses for older adults. Course fees may depend on your location, and completing the course usually leads to discounts on insurance premiums.

Go to a CarFit event

CarFit events are specifically designed to help older drivers achieve a better fit with their vehicles for increased comfort and safety. Trained technicians will check the vehicle settings and provide recommendations for adjustments to accommodate individual needs.

Car modifications for easier driving

These car modifications and technologies can be valuable tools for older adult drivers to enhance their driving experience and overall safety on the road: [10]Adapted Vehicles. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Found on the internet at

Some programs may help pay the costs of vehicle modifications. For information, contact your state’s department of vocational rehabilitation or another agency providing vocational services and, if appropriate, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. You may also check with NCOA BenefitsCheckUp under “Disability Services” for assistive technology programs in your area.

Technologies for older adult drivers

As assistive technologies continue to evolve, they hold the potential to empower drivers with disabilities and older adults alike, ensuring inclusivity and accessibility for all road users. [11]Top 10 Vehicle Modifications for Mature Drivers. The Hartford. 2023. Found on the internet at Some technologies to consider are:

Safe driving tips for older adults

In addition to using technology, many common-sense defensive driving strategies can increase road safety for people of all ages: [12]Stefanac, Meg. Top 20 Safe and Defensive Driving Tips. Trusted Choice. Nov. 4, 2022. Found on the internet at

  1. Time your driving wisely: Whenever possible, plan your trips during off-peak hours to avoid heavy rush hour traffic. Reduced traffic can make driving less stressful and minimize the likelihood of aggressive driving encounters.
  2. Avoid inclement weather: Poor weather conditions, such as heavy rain, snow, or fog, can significantly impact driving safety. If bad weather is forecasted, consider postponing your trip until conditions improve.
  3. Research your route: Before setting out on a journey, familiarize yourself with the route and potential road hazards. Use GPS navigation systems to receive real-time traffic updates and alternative route suggestions.
  4. Maintain a safe following distance: Allow for ample space between your vehicle and the one in front of you. A greater following distance provides more time to react to sudden stops or emergencies.
  5. Observe speed limits: Adhere to posted speed limits, especially in unfamiliar areas. Driving at an appropriate speed allows for better control and reaction time, reducing the risk of accidents.
  6. Stay focused and alert: Minimize distractions inside the car and keep your focus on the road ahead. Avoid using mobile phones or other electronic devices while driving. Keep hydrated and well-rested before embarking on a journey. On longer trips, schedule breaks to rest and stretch your legs.
  7. Use turn signals: Signal your intentions clearly and in advance when changing lanes or making turns. This helps other drivers anticipate your movements, promoting smoother traffic flow.
  8. Be cautious at intersections: Approach intersections cautiously, even if you have the right of way. Look for potential hazards, such as vehicles running red lights, to avoid collisions.
  9. Adjust to changing light conditions: Be prepared for changing light conditions, such as transitioning from daylight to dusk or night driving. Keep your headlights on when visibility is reduced.
  10. Be patient and tolerant: Stay patient and avoid aggressive driving behaviors. Remain courteous to other road users, and avoid confrontations with aggressive drivers.

Chad Shepperd, associate director of operations and training at Drive Safe Colorado, told us, “Anyone driving with hearing loss will need to rely more on their vision. It’s important that they limit visual distractions, increase visual scanning at intersections (even at green lights), and check mirrors more frequently.”

Older adult licensing by state

Rules regarding renewing driver’s licenses vary by state. You may visit your particular state’s Department of Motor Vehicles website or NOLO’s Driving Laws for Seniors and Older Drivers page for details.

While most states require a vision test past a certain age, typically 65 but sometimes younger or older, written and road tests usually are only required if specific impairments are documented. Below is a general overview of the requirements. [13]Driving Laws for Seniors & Older Drivers. NOLO. Found on the internet at

For a full summary of the key features of each state’s rules, download this Older Adult Licensing by State Packet.

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Bottom line

Recognizing how hearing loss can impact driving abilities, you can take proactive measures to ensure safety on the road. From regular assessments of hearing and vision to embracing modern technologies and adapting driving habits, older drivers can continue to navigate our roads with confidence and enjoyment. Remember, the goal is not to discourage or limit your freedom, but to ensure the safety of yourself and others on the road. By honestly evaluating your hearing abilities and taking necessary precautions, you can continue to enjoy the open road with confidence and peace of mind.

Have questions about this article? Email us at


  1. Pomidor, A. Clinician’s Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers. American Geriatrics Society. Published 2019. Found on the internet at
  2. Hickson, Louise, et al. Hearing Impairment Affects Older People’s Ability to Drive in the Presence of Distracters. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. June 2010. Found on the internet at’s_Ability_to_Drive_in_the_Presence_of_Distracters
  3. Feldman, Joel. Yes—The Deaf (And Those With Hearing Loss) Are Allowed To Drive And Do So As Safely As Hearing Drivers. Dec. 12, 2023. End Distracted Driving. Found on the internet at
  4. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Age-Related Hearing Loss (Presbycusis). Updated March 17, 2023. Found on the internet at
  5. DOT Physical Doctors. Hearing Q&A. Found on the internet at
  6. National Association of the Deaf. Commercial Driver’s Licenses. Found on the internet at
  7. Driver Knowledge Tests. Can You Drive When You are Deaf? Found on the internet at
  8. San Diego Magazine. Can Deaf People Drive? June 7, 2023. Found on the internet at
  9. National Institute on Aging. Safe Driving for Older Adults. Reviewed Dec. 20, 2022. Found on the internet at
  10. Clason, Debbie. How Does Hearing Loss Affect Driving? Updated Dec. 29, 2021. Healthy Hearing. Found on the internet at
  11. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Adapted Vehicles. Found on the internet at
  12. The Hartford. Top 10 Vehicle Modifications for Mature Drivers. 2023. Found on the internet at
  13. Stefanac, Meg. Top 20 Safe and Defensive Driving Tips. Trusted Choice. Nov. 4, 2022. Found on the internet at
  14. NOLO. Driving Laws for Seniors & Older Drivers. Found on the internet at
Lauren Sherman, M.S., is a health content writer with a master’s degree in human genetics from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center, laboratory experience from National Jewish Health, and clinical experience from Children’s Hospital Colorado.
Rachel Magann Faivre, AuD
Rachel Magann Faivre Medical Reviewer
Rachel Magann Faivre, AuD, is the owner of Oklahoma City-based Ash Audiology. She currently serves on The Audiology Project’s Board of Directors and on Northern Illinois University’s Advisory Board. Additionally, Dr. Magann Faivre has served for many years on her National Audiology Association's Advocacy Committee to help improve access and coverage of hearing health care. She received her doctor of audiology from Northern Illinois University and has been the recipient of multiple relevant awards.
Kathleen Cameron
Kathleen Cameron Reviewer
Kathleen Cameron, BSPharm, MPH, has more than 25 years of experience in the health care field as a pharmacist, researcher, and program director focusing on falls prevention, geriatric pharmacotherapy, mental health, long-term services and supports, and caregiving. Cameron is Senior Director of the NCOA Center for Healthy Aging, where she provides subject matter expertise on health care programmatic and policy related issues and oversees the Modernizing Senior Center Resource Center.
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