Longer life, better general health, sustained travel habits and a wish for independency are possible causes for the increasing number of older drivers and other road users with and without hearing impairments. VTI conducts research in the field to examine how impaired hearing affects users’ needs and abilities.
There are approximately 1.6 million people in Sweden (14 %) with a hearing loss and this is a number that is increasing. The most common category of hearing impairment is related to age (presbycusis). Still, relatively few studies have focused on the importance of auditory information for traffic safety and mobility.
Studies concludes that hearing impairment or deafness should not be an exclusion criterion for driving license, as hearing impairment/deafness cannot be considered as an increased traffic safety risk. But recently, research has indicated that hearing loss is associated with an increased risk of accident. Beyond the legal regulation there can be self-regulation due to the experience that hearing impairments contribute to a degraded feeling of safety and reduced mobility. The impact on both safety and mobility needs to be considered.
Furthermore, there is a rapidly growing market of advanced driver support systems in cars; parking aid, navigation systems, lane keeping systems etc. Such systems can increase both safety and mobility. However, current design of driver support systems typically is based on auditory information and may exclude drivers with hearing impairments. Thus, there is a need to investigate other sense modalities, like visual or tactile, and how to design the systems in order to conform to the users’ needs and abilities.