A Word with the DOCTOR
by Dr John Winsor
The Sunday Times of Malta

DEAF PEOPLE do not get their share of sympathy and are often not fully understood. This is particularly true of deaf drivers.

It is often suggested that the hard of hearing cannot be as good or as safe drivers as others. Yet research carried out in New Zealand into the causes of more than 30,000 accidents showed that deafness was not regarded as responsible in a single incident. In the United States, almost all licensing officers consider deaf drivers to be quite as safe - indeed safer - than average.

There is a reason for this. These drivers are so well aware of their disability, and of the prejudices against them, that they take more than average care when driving. They concentrate more on the job.

Indeed, one insurance company revealed that although eight per cent of policy-holders make some sort of claim each year, only between three and four per cent of claims are made by people with defective hearing.

There are, of course, varying degrees of deafness. There is the deafness of the lad who never hears his mother asking him to do something. And at the other end of the scale there is the so-called stone-deaf patient.

If a driver has some degree of deafness and wears a hearing-aid, the question is often asked whether, if he wears it during his driving test, he ought never to drive without it. Some countries insist on this, but I feel it is unreasonable.

A hearing-aid does not clarify sound as much as it may increase the volume, and this can be a distraction to the driver, especially in town areas. A hearing-aid is not comparable with spectacles. The latter can improve vision to such an extent that it becomes normal. A hearing-aid does not make hearing perfect.

There have been suggestions that a certificate of sound hearing should be incorporated in every application for a driving licence. In view of the statistics, however, this would seem unreasonable.

We all suffer at times from the other driver who thinks we must be deaf, just because we don't do exactly what he wants us to do. He shows this by hooting and bad manners. There is reason to believe that the driver with poorer hearing is spared some of this sort of annoyance, as well as the distraction of a talkative passenger. The only thing that may possibly suffer a little as the result of the disability is perhaps, the gearbox!

To sum up, I would maintain that the deaf driver is as safe as the rest of us and I would never support any legislation against him.