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Can Deaf People Drive? Some Surprising Facts

MoonByTheSea is passionate about Deaf rights and American Sign Language.

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-people-drive

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

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“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.

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 That Allow Deaf People to Obtain a Driver's License

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.

RegionCountriesSource(s)

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)

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)

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); alldeaf.com participant (Ecuador, 2010); The Gleaner (Jamaica, 2010)

South America

Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela

World Federation of the Deaf, Regional Report No 3, pg 49 (2008)

Countries That Don't Allow Deaf People to Obtain a Driver's License

This table lists only countries known to prohibit Deaf people from obtaining driver's licenses. There may be others.

RegionCountriesSource

Africa: Eastern and Southern

Burundi, Ethiopia, Eritria, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sudan, Zambia*

Word Federation for the Deaf, Regional Report No 5, pg 68 (2008); Keycorrespondents.org (Zambia, 2012)

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

Laos

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)

References

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.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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