Blog: Hearing properly sweet music to ears

A couple of hearing aids means motoring editor Andy Russell can now clearly hear passengers in his c

A couple of hearing aids means motoring editor Andy Russell can now clearly hear passengers in his car. - Credit: Peter Sargent

Sitting in rush-hour traffic the other morning I found myself singing along to the radio... coming faintly from the car beside me. It made me realise how much I had been missing before I succumbed to admitting the old ears aren't as sharp as they used to be.

My world has changed dramatically since I learned I needed not one, but two hearing aids.

Things came to a head when my wife and I went to stay with our son and his girlfriend at the apartment they had moved into. They were saying how lovely it was apart from the irritating splashing of the fountain outside. I could see the fountain but, even when they opened the window, the noise was not an issue. I had not realised, or accepted, how bad my hearing had become.

Once I realised, I started thinking about whether, as a driver, I should have done something earlier. You have an eyesight test for driving, albeit a rather rudimentary one to read a car number plate from 20 metres, with glasses or contact lenses if needed.

But being able to hear is not a requirement to drive. If you have a car or motorcycle licence you don't need to tell DVLA if you're deaf but you do if you hold a bus, coach or lorry licence.

It seems the effect of impaired hearing on the ability to drive safely is still untested but there is some suggestion totally deaf drivers may have a slightly increased risk of an accident. It's a theory most deaf drivers have rejected, saying hearing loss has heightened their other senses, especially eyesight and vibration sensory, to make up for any loss of hearing.

It has been likened to lorry drivers, with normal hearing, often having great difficulty detecting outside warning sounds because of the noise of the engine and the sound-proofing modern lorry cabs have today. This has led some experts to conclude that total deafness presents no safety hazard when driving.

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But it is accepted that drivers who suffer slight or medium hearing loss, and do not wear a hearing aid, are a hazard to themselves and other road-users because they are unlikely to be able to apply 100% concentration to the task of driving.

Having kicked against admitting I needed help to hear I'm amazed by this whole new world that has opened up around me.

Why did I feel a couple of small digital hearing aids were going to make people look at me differently. I'm wear glasses so I can see better, have no problem with my expanding bald patch (I prefer to think of it as a personal solar panel) and having a couple of back teeth removed when they proved beyond repair caused me no gnashing of those still left.

On the positive side:

I can hear the rhythmic click of the indicators so won't leave them on by mistake.

I can hear people talking to me in the car, even sitting in the back, rather than them being muffled by engine and tyre noise.

I don't need the audio system volume so high that it is putting other passengers' hearing at risk.

Two little hearing aids have made my life easier and so much more enjoyable, unlocking sounds that have escaped me for years.

And when I want to go into selective hearing mode I just take my hearing aids out and retreat into my own world. But I won't say that too loudly in case the wife gets to hear about it.

Are you a totally deaf driver or found hearing aids have made you a safer driver? Email motoring@archant.co.uk