Can Deaf People Drive? Some Surprising Facts

Hearing people often wonder--if Deaf people can't hear, how can they drive? Plus, find out which countries allow Deaf people to drive and which countries still deny Deaf people this fundamental right.


An Important Right

The right to drive is not a trivial one—without it, Deaf people are restricted in their ability to work and to access medical, community, and other services. The Deaf community has had to fight for this important right. In the United States in the 1920s, when states were adopting their first motor vehicle laws, several states enacted laws denying Deaf people the right to obtain driver's licenses. By educating hearing people that Deaf drivers posed no threat to public safety, the National Association of the Deaf and its state committees were able to win the repeal of these discriminatory laws.5

While Deaf people in all 50 U.S. states have the right to drive, they still face discrimination in some aspects of driving. For example, until 2006, UPS refused to hire Deaf drivers because of safety concerns, which a federal court eventually ruled to be unfounded.6 In addition, some Deaf people have reported being denied the ability to rent or test drive a car. Others find that if they do become involved in an accident, it can be harder to prove they weren’t at fault since many hearing people make the assumption that Deaf people can’t drive safely.7


Deaf Drivers and Safety

Many people wonder how a Deaf person can drive without being able to hear audible cues such as a police siren, an ambulance needing the right of way, or even a honking horn. There are several ways around this problem. First, some Deaf people use electronic devices in their cars that alert them, using a lighted panel, to sounds coming from outside the vehicle.1 Others simply pay attention to visual cues, such as the flashing lights of an emergency vehicle or cues from other drivers on the road. For instance, noticing other drivers move to the side of the road is a strong indicator that an emergency vehicle is approaching.

Hearing people might also wonder how a Deaf person would communicate with a police officer if pulled over. In the United States, some Deaf drivers carry state-issued cards to let police officers know that they are Deaf and to suggest ways to communicate, such as by writing in a notebook. Many Deaf people find the cards unnecessary, especially if they’re able to lip read well.2

“But, ultimately, isn’t it just unsafe if a driver can’t hear what’s happening outside the vehicle?” Actually, studies show that Deaf drivers are no more likely to be involved in car accidents than hearing drivers.3 This makes sense since driving is mainly a visual activity. Plus, there’s even some research to suggest that Deaf adults have better peripheral vision than hearing people4, surely an advantage when driving.

Deaf people in Japan, who won the right to drive in 2008, must display this butterfly sticker on the back of their vehicles.
Deaf people in Japan, who won the right to drive in 2008, must display this butterfly sticker on the back of their vehicles. | Source

Fighting for the Right to Drive Worldwide

In a 2009 report, the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) found that out of 93 national Deaf organizations surveyed, 31 indicated that Deaf people are not allowed to obtain a driver’s license in their country.8 A number of the 93 countries surveyed did not respond to the questionnaire—not to mention the fact that there are nearly 200 countries in the world in total-- making it unclear exactly how many countries deny Deaf people the right to drive. An earlier WFD report, citing 26 respondents who indicated that Deaf people are not allowed to drive in their country, is often misinterpreted to mean that “all but 26 countries in the world” allow Deaf people to drive. It is important to note that this is not correct, and the actual number may be substantially higher.

The tables below indicate where Deaf people have the right to obtain driver's licenses worldwide. There are many countries for which information is not available. If you have information about Deaf driving laws in countries not listed, please share the information in the comments section at the bottom of this page. While much progress has been made, particularly in recent years, there is still much work to be done to ensure this basic right for Deaf people around the world.

Countries Allowing Deaf People to Obtain a Driver's License

Africa: Eastern and Southern
Botswana, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe
World Federation of the Deaf, Regional Report No 5, pg 68 (2008); DOOR International (Kenya, 2010); (Kenya)
Africa: Western and Central
Burkina Faso, Cameroon, DR Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria, Sierra Leone
World Federation of the Deaf, Regional Report No 6, pg 59 (2008)
Arab Region
Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia
World Federation of the Deaf, Regional Report No 7, pg 55 (2008)
Asia and Pacific
Australia, Bhutan, Cambodia, Indonesia, India, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal (2012), New Zealand, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand
World Federation of the Deaf, Regional Report No 2, pg 61 (2008); Legal India (2011); ITN news broadcast (Sri Lanka, 2012); The Himalayan Times (Nepal, 2012); (India); (Sri Lanka);
Eastern Europe and Middle Asia
Republic of Belarus, Bulgaria, Republic of Kazakhstan, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation, Republic of Uzbekistan
World Federation of the Deaf, Regional Report No 1, pg 49 (2008)
European Union
All countries
World Federation of the Deaf, "WFD Statement on Deaf People's Right to Drive a Car or Other Vehicles." (2009)
North America, Central America, and the Caribbean
Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Suriname, USA
World Federation of the Deaf, Regional Report No 4, pg 55 (2008); participant (Ecuador, 2010); The Gleaner (Jamaica, 2010); (Ecuador); (Jamaica)
South America
Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela
World Federation of the Deaf, Regional Report No 3, pg 49 (2008)
This table lists countries known to allow Deaf people to obtain driver's licenses. There may be others. Also, in some regions, it is possible that local officials may still practice discrimination despite national policy.

Countries Not Allowing Deaf People to Obtain a Driver's License

Africa: Eastern and Southern
Burundi, Ethiopia, Eritria, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sudan, Zambia*
Word Federation for the Deaf, Regional Report No 5, pg 68 (2008); (Zambia, 2012); (Zambia)
Africa: Western and Central
Benin, Cape Verde, Chad, Gabon, Niger, Senegal, Togo
World Federation of the Deaf, Regional Report No 6, pg 59 (2008)
Arab Region
Egypt, Mauritania, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, Yemen
World Federation of the Deaf, Regional Report No 7, pg 55 (2008)
Asia and Pacific
World Federation of the Deaf, Regional Report No 2, pg 61 (2008)
Eastern Europe and Middle Asia
Republic of Armenia, Ukraine
World Federation of the Deaf, Regional Report No 1, pg 49 (2008)
Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean
Haiti, Nicaragua
World Federation of the Deaf, Regional Report No 4, pg 55 (2008)
South America
Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay
World Federation of the Deaf, Regional Report No 3, pg 49 (2008)
This table lists only countries known to prohibit Deaf people from obtaining driver's licenses. There may be others.


1. PBS, "Deaf Culture: Living with Deafness."
2. For an example of a Deaf driver card from Maryland, see Brandy Schaffels, "Sheriffs Help Hearing-Impaired Maryland Motorists"
3. World Federation of the Deaf, "WFD Statement on Deaf People's Right to Drive a Car or Other Vehicles."
4. Codina, et. al., "Deaf and Hearing Children: A Comparison of Peripheral Vision Development."
5. Gallaudet University, History Through Deaf Eyes, "Community Building: The Right to Drive."
6. Bob Egelko, "Deaf drivers due a chance at UPS jobs, court says," SF Gate, Oct 11, 2006.
7. The Law Office of David H. Greenberg, "Do Deaf Drivers Get a Raw Deal?"
8. World Federation of the Deaf and Swedish National Association of the Deaf, Deaf People and Human Rights, January 2009, pgs 6 and 21.

Comments 23 comments

melpor profile image

melpor 2 years ago from New Jersey, USA

Interesting hub. I never knew that there were laws in some countries that do not allow a deaf person to drive. I agree with the statement that driving is predominantly a visual activity. They should be able to drive for that reason alone. Voted up.

Kelvin D. Johnston 2 years ago

I have a deaf brother it would be awesome to see him doing something like that for himself

Marty Redhorn 21 months ago

Intesting... But seriously, driving is a privilege, not a right in the United States. That's literally the first thing they tell you in driver's education.

CAMSB 21 months ago

Marty - while it is true driving is a privilege, it is against the law, in other words, discriminatory, to deny a deaf person their privilege to drive based on the perception that the person cannot drive due to hearing loss. I am deaf myself and I've driven for 30 years and in these 30 years, I only had two minor accidents and neither was my fault. The first one was when the other driver failed to observe the right of way at a 4-way stoplight. Another happened in a parking lot. I was about to pull into a parking spot when a driver was backing out of hers. I HONKED at her to stop as I was right in front of her car. Guess what, she didn't hear me AND did not use the rearview mirror. She rammed into me. The policeman at first believed the old lady when she told him I just pulled in front of her without any warning and she wasn't able to stop. I showed the cop how close I was parked to her car which was because I was getting ready to turn into the parking spot rather than in the middle of the parking lane. Plus if I was moving when she rammed me, my van would have moved sideway instead of stationary since I was pressing on the brake. The cop went hmmmm. He realized I made sense and gave the old lady a ticket. Some hearing people can't drive and shouldn't drive. Driving is all about using eyes, not ears.

Kathy Kangen 21 months ago

Can hearing people drive? If they depend on hearing more than seeing, how can they see? Deaf people can drive because they have the world's most sharp eyes. Research it and educate yourself.

Artois52 profile image

Artois52 21 months ago from England

Great hub. A agree with the comment from Kathy Kangen. A deaf driver probably does concentrate more than a hearing driver. As a pedestrian, I know that I sometimes cross a road without really looking and rely on my hearing to detect an approaching vehicle. Not a good move, now that we have electric cars.

Elsie Hagley profile image

Elsie Hagley 21 months ago from New Zealand

Interesting article. I wouldn't consider a deaf person a hazard on the road as they are aware of their problem and are more alert on the road than the average driver.

I know my brother when going for his pilot's licence couldn't get it as he had some hearing loss, it wasn't picked up until then and we never noticed any problem with his hearing. He was very disappointed.

Happy New Year to you, may 2015 be a great year for you.

Carol Houle profile image

Carol Houle 21 months ago from Montreal

I believe deaf people have heightened senses which make up for their lack of hearing. Interesting hub.

Bilal Hassan 21 months ago

Bilal from pakistan. My two brothers are deaf and can perfectly drive. But licensing authority denying to issue the driving license. Absolutly disappointing. Can we run a compaighne to restore there basic right.

Dave 20 months ago

First, this article should correct that first part.

Second of all, I agree that deaf people should be allowed to drive. With that being said, it does pique a concern about emergency vehicles and situational awareness.

Most of the time, I hear emergency vehicles and can tell which direction they are coming from when approaching an intersection. Without being able to hear them, a lot of times you can't see them until it's too late and you're in the way or cutting them off.

The same goes for other drivers trying to alert you. Honking an inattentive driver is commonplace and we are all human. Our attention can shift from driving to other things quickly at a stoplight, etc. If someone honks to get your attention, for any reason, deaf people won't be able to respond accordingly.

Lastly is the condition of your vehicle. Yes, we all have mechanics that tell us the condition of our vehicle, but your vehicle is only in the shop for service every 3-6 months. If there is a ball joint or inner brake pad failing, you will never know. There are clunks and grinds and squeals and any other number of noises your car can make that don't affect drivability until a part catastrophically fails.

Now it's completely fair and just that deaf people have the PRIVILEGE to drive. It's just the burden of driving safely in every way possible, lies solely on the drivers shoulders. It's just not a risk I would want to take if I were deaf. If I went through an intersection and got t-boned by an ambulance because I didn't hear them, causing the death of the person they were on the way to rescue, I couldn't live with it.

Just in my defense, I came across this because I hate seeing people wear headphones/earbuds while they drive. I then got curious about whether it was legal for deaf people to drive because the principles are the same.

Shlomo 20 months ago

Hi there, where is the country of Israel that Deaf can drive? Why there is no list of Israel?

Omer Zak 19 months ago

I am Israeli, and I have driving license.

Deaf people need to pass an examination which is required of people who have disabilities. In my case, they checked only my field of vision.

Deaf people also cannot drive busses or big trucks.

Angi 19 months ago

Dave, I can feel my car. Anything seriously wrong with a car will have some kind of physical indication. The car may shudder, shake, road walk, take longer to stop, take longer to start. It's all about paying attention. These are things many hearing people do not notice because they are listening only. I can tell when the break pads need changing because you hear a squeal, I feel a shudder located in the front right (I can be this specific because such an issue came up with my hearing husband last month and I asked if he was ever going to fix that right break..he didn't think I realized..yes, sir, I did).

I was a hearing person who went deaf. I did not drive for 5 years because I was terrified. What if someone honks? What if an ambulance is coming? Did you know that most honks are unnecessary? It's mostly just impatient people. I don't care what they think. I have to pay more attention at the light..which is fine since I'm not fiddling with a cell phone or a radio. I really don't have anything else to do but watch the light. I look extra careful when backing out, which we should all do since kids don't honk and they could be back there. If every car starts moving into one lane I know that either there's an emergency vehicle coming or there's roadwork ahead, either way I gotta move too, so I do.

I'd honestly say going deaf has made me a BETTER driver. I pay a lot more attention to what's going on around me. I have yet to find myself in the way of an ambulance or police car since I'm always having to pay attention. I know for a fact I use my mirrors way more than any hearing person I've ever met does.

17 months ago

My deaf brother holds a valid driver's license in Puerto Rico. He had no issues getting one.

Akram 12 months ago

In Pakistan driver license is not issued to people who are deaf, there is a rule in the book, and deaf people trying to remove that two lines rules.

Nena 9 months ago

Actually, deaf people have better reflexes and observations skills.

icv profile image

icv 6 months ago from India, Kerala

Interesting hub. I have a deaf friend. Such people must enjoy the fruits of life as other enjoys

Thanks for sharing

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 6 months ago from the short journey

Congrats on your Hub of the Day award for this post highlighting the issues deaf people face when it comes to driving.

Anne Harrison profile image

Anne Harrison 6 months ago from Australia

Congrats on HOTD! Re the argument deaf people can't hear what's happening outside the car, is that really any different to those who drive with the music turned right up, or with headphones on (which I see quite a bit)? An interesting hub on an issue I had not thought about, thank you.

ChitrangadaSharan profile image

ChitrangadaSharan 6 months ago from New Delhi, India

Congratulations for the HOTD!

A very informative hub highlighting the issue of whether deaf people can drive or not and the related laws in different countries.

Driving is all about alertness and I believe they have it in them.

Interesting points brought by you. Thanks!

Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 6 months ago from Northeast Ohio

Congrats on HOTD yesterday! This was an interesting hub to show how the hearing impaired should have the same rights as hearing people do when driving the car. This was a good case study to read about and know too.

Terri White 2 months ago

My sister I deaf and has been driving 30 yrs. She has never had an accident or ticket in her life. She was stopped by an FHP officer with 3 of her deaf friends for avoiding a stop signal (cut across parking lot) he was very respectful and was able to communicate with the. He gave them a warning and went on his way. The way people text and talk on their cell phone is much more distracting then being deaf. She passed all the requirement to obtain her license like everyone else, so if it's good enough for the state then it's good enough for me?

jegg 2 weeks ago

emergency sirens are high pitched for a reason. if a normal person is listening to the radio high pitched sirens are still able to be heard by them. if the deaf community wants to argue that they dont need to actually hear a siren then normal people should argue the same thing and all emergency vehicles should be required to remove sirens. i dont want to hear those b annoying sirens. as a normal person i feel unfairly discriminated against. why should we give the priveledge to drive for deaf people who cant hear sirens and argue that they drive perfectly fine or better without the ability to hear sirens? i should likewise not have to suffer through hearing sirens. i realize most of you are on the side of the hearing disabled and wont agree but if you think about this....i am correct. so either revoke deaf persons licenses or force emergency vehicles to remove sirens

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