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December 10, 2004

Deaf Talkabout: When it comes to driving ... the eyes have it

From: Belfast Telegraph - Belfast,Northern Ireland,UK - Dec 10, 2004

By Bob McCullough
10 December 2004

"Sight is the most important sense when driving" claimed an article in a recent motor magazine. "If you can see as far ahead as possible, this reduces your chances of having an accident. That's why anyone whose vision can be improved with glasses should wear them for driving even if they are within the law without them."

During a routine eye test some years ago I told my optician that I could drive perfectly well without my glasses and only needed them for reading. But he sternly warned me that such an attitude was very foolish and if I was unfortunate enough to be involved in an accident, the police would not be happy and my insurance might be invalid. I never leave home without them now.

Deaf drivers are proud of our driving skills and statistics prove we are at least as good as hearing folk in avoiding accidents and obeying traffic laws. Habit has perfected and sharpened our peripheral vision and it is undoubtedly true that we depend on our eyes more than ordinary drivers and our all-round awareness of traffic more than makes up for our loss of hearing.

But this very dependency on good sight makes it all the more important that we have our sight checked regularly.

People are required by law to notify the DVLA if they develop a medical condition affecting their condition to drive and this includes defective eyesight. It is easy to miss an ambulance or fire engine speeding through the traffic when we can't hear the siren.

Any impairment in vision is made worse when your eyes are tired and there is less light. Deaf drivers could add boredom to this as we are unable to enjoy the diversion of music or news on long trips and attention may wander. And Chief Superintendent Eddie Graham, a stage three sign language student, has warned of the danger of being distracted by sign language at the wheel - and absolutely refuses to permit texting and driving.

Some years ago I was suddenly overtaken by tiredness when returning home early in the morning from a party in Derry and fought desperately to keep my eyes open as I drove over the Glenshane Pass. It was futile to continue the battle so, realising the danger, which is worse when alone, I found a little farm track and turned off to sleep soundly for 20 minutes before continuing my journey.

The need to see clearly has been difficult this past week with the low sun almost blinding us with its dazzle and cutting speed to a crawl. I have a pair of self-darkening glasses, but the toughened glass of the windscreen spoils their effectiveness and I find it better to keep a pair of clip-on sunglasses handy.

The magazine article concludes with the warning that a person driving with defective eyesight is no better than a drunk driver and can be just as lethal.

All deaf people love their cars and as our friends and relatives are usually more widely scattered than most, we need the freedom and ease of car travel. So don't be smug, and make sure your eyes are fit for the job.

2004 Independent News and Media (NI) a division of Independent News & media (UK) Ltd