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I'm curious, in what way do you heavily rely on your hearing when riding? Everything happening behind you (engine noise, honking, warnings to pass) is out of your control. You only need to know what's going on behind you when you change something (like changing lanes, etc). It's admittedly harder, but i'd imagine that relying more on the look-back would amply compensate for lack of hearing. (exception is hearing emergency sirens)

no idea how the law treats hearing loss for cars or bikes

As far as I know, there aren't any legal restrictions in the US on driving or cycling while deaf. Some states may require an endorsement on the license. Some deaf cyclists have signs on their bikes (rear rack, etc.) warning that they are deaf. They also use mirrors (as do some of us hearing cyclists).

It turns out there is a deaf cycling club here in DC who are also very excited about the CaBi station coming to Gallaudet. Maybe a good opportunit to ask them for some education on deaf riding?

http://dvelo.com/about/

To add to Brian's point... It's illegal to drive while having ear phones in, but it is not against the law to drive when one is deaf.

Also, is there a place where I can find the full list of the roads, other than the local roads, that will get Bicycles may take lane signs?

People in cars have their music blaring and windows closed. Yet they are the ones most likely to injure anyone else. If we as cyclists are looked upon by the law as having to obey the same rules of the road, why should it be acceptable that cyclists must not be hearing impaired, either deaf or with double headphones? All of us riding bikes should always be using our vision, mirrors (or spider senses I suppose) to constantly know what is behind, on the side or in front of us. Is it possible the only thing you'd need to hear is a siren from emergency vehicles - which I personally almost always see before I hear? Should there be differences between hearing and non-hearing on bike/ped paths verses roads? I think this is a good debate to have, and one where there is no clear answer (although I'd personally side with the thoughts that drivers and cyclists and pedestrians should be more vigilant about their surrounding and rules dictating non-headphone wearing activities are just not getting at the heart of safety problems).

The problem with earphones on cyclists is not only do they mask other noise, but they also distract. Deaf cyclists are not distracted.

turtleshell FTW

Turtleshell - I can see some logic in that and would tend to agree. I do also agree that I do tend to use my hearing when riding, even when certain things out of sight are beyond my control.

I'm seconding turtleshell here. The problem isn't so much the music, it's the distraction. The reason headphones are illegal (at least in DC, in VA you can have one in your ear) is because legislative bodies mistakenly think they can stop distracted driving by banning specific distractions. The reality is that distracted driving occurs for a number of reasons and those prone to pay attention to the distraction of the road will continue to do so.

The answer to you biking while deaf question is easily answered by those of us who traverse the MVT and cross the 14th Street Bridge. Sometimes, even with a bell or airhorn, the jet engines or highway traffic drowns out all warning noises so you use your eyes as guideposts and without a mirror, you glance over your shoulder. If you have never experienced it, trying riding by the crowds at Gravelly Point as a plane lands or takes off, scream an obscenity, and see if anyone even notices.

@Upside,

All of us riding bikes should always be using our vision, mirrors (or spider senses I suppose) to constantly know what is behind...

Actually, I'd argue that constantly scanning behind is a distraction. Use lane positioning, and look back when you need to change lanes, etc... (One of the reasons I don't use mirrors.)

From the linked article re: Phinney:

Not far away, in the shadow of Hampton Court Palace and the former home of King Henry VIII, Phinney saw Great Britain’s David Wiggins looking very regal with a gold medal around his neck.

Good to see America's fine journamalism traditions being kept alive.

Also, when hearing people wear headphones, we're basically eliminating one of the senses we use in everyday life and are therefore diminishing our baseline ability to perceive and react. Deaf people are not eliminating any of the senses that they use in everyday life and are therefore not diminishing their baseline ability to perceive and react.

I use my sense of hearing largely to detect what's going on with vehicles behind me. Were I deaf, I'd probably use a mirror and/or turn around more often, and in any event be more careful with lateral movements.

Maybe we should promote a ban on listening to the radios/music in cars - to me it's the same thing (a distraction) as a cyclist wearing headphones and the associated distraction. The difference is drivers are the the most likely to be distracted (more of them) and they have the greater potential of injuring someone else (big car smashes little bikes or people). Is there any justification for applying these laws equally?

Exactly. Put another way, cyclists without hearing are used to riding in silence and know how to compensate and rely on other senses and good bike positioning. Wondering about this seems a little bit like wondering how any cyclists can possibly be safe on the road given our "speed handicap".

Anonymous wrote:
Also, when hearing people wear headphones, we're basically eliminating one of the senses we use in everyday life and are therefore diminishing our baseline ability to perceive and react. Deaf people are not eliminating any of the senses that they use in everyday life and are therefore not diminishing their baseline ability to perceive and react.

Came to the comments to write what turtleshell already said so succinctly. So just felt I'd add that much to the chagrin of passengers with styled hair: when driving I usually keep my windows down so I can listen to motorists, bikes, & peds, in my blind spots. Hearing is a huge part of my travel across all modes.

[W]hen hearing people wear headphones, we're basically eliminating one of the senses we use in everyday life and are therefore diminishing our baseline ability to perceive and react. Deaf people are not eliminating any of the senses that they use in everyday life and are therefore not diminishing their baseline ability to perceive and react.

What about cyclists who wear headphones whether they're on a bike or not? Surely their baseline is unaffected.

People who think hearing is primarily for sensing what's behind you should try walking around with earplugs for a while. Hearing gives you critical information from all directions, especially the side. It tells you position and speed of objects that you may have a hard time assessing visually even when you are directly observing them. There are a lot of subtle clues about the world around you that your brain is able to discern from hearing without any conscious effort: doppler shift, the sound of a truck braking, the pitch of tire noise (which gives you approximate velocity), reflected sound from vehicles around blind corners, etc.

Obviously the difference with the hearing impaired is that the impairment is not optional, and not trivially avoidable. As others have pointed out, those without hearing compensate in other ways. Sometimes these aren't enough, however. Last year on the W&OD a little west of Reston i came upon a scene where a profoundly deaf fellow had had a collision with a woman on a tri bike. She had been passing him and called out, but he moved in front of her. No serious injuries, but the guy had a badly broken finger, and his Raleigh was messed up, as was the tri bike. It was a reminder to me that auditory signals are not a panacea.

I'm with Tara. While everyone's speculation about deaf cycling is mildly interesting, I'd be fascinated to read a guest post by a deaf cyclist, which I suspect someone from Gallaudet's cycling club would be happy to write.

Tara, thanks for the connection. I'll contact them to ask. I think it's an interesting subject.

And I'll second what antibozo said. I use my hearing for more than knowing what's behind me. It gives me info about my bike if something is falling apart, about the road surface, about the aggressiveness of drivers near me, about cars coming the other way at an intersection (I once avoided a situation with a motorcyclist who ran a red light at like 50mph because I heard him coming and he didn't sound like he was stopping), etc...

Anyway, I certainly don't want to stop anyone from cycling and I was more concerned that a hearing impaired person wouldn't be allowed to bike or protected by the law. Is being hearing impaired enough to establish contributory negligence? I'd think the ADA or some other discrimination law would protect them.

Anyway, I'll contact the bike club Tara linked to.

oboe, I saw that too, but I didn't see a point in calling the guy out. A friend of friend is a dual citizen who's swimming for Mexico, but ESPN has him listed as American. So, it happens.

I did some research on a similar issue regarding whether or not hearing impaired people could operate boats when the nautical rules of the road require maintaining a lookout using sight and sound.

First, hearing impaired folks might sense the same things we here in a different manner. IE: vibrations, etc.

Second, I learned the FAA permits hearing impaired pilots to operate aircraft. They are limited to using non-controlled airports and not flying in controlled airspace.

The points above about the distraction issue are good ones.

Born deaf in one ear and minimal hearing in the other. Not a part of the Gallaudet Cycling club. Although not completely deaf, my hearing on the road is often useless. I cannot tell whether the siren is to my left or right, front or back, or if any honking is being directed at me or those nearby. I do hear noises, so when I hear a loud engine noise getting louder, I know there's something coming, but from where is never known until I see it. I almost never hear other cyclists ringing their bells or saying "on your left".

Strict adherence to the law, being predictable and giving the right of way where appropriate gets me around just fine.

That said, my minimal hearing makes a world of difference compared to complete deafness. Had I been in Washcycle's situation with the approaching motorcycle, my minimal hearing may have been enough to warn me.

I don't think the deaf vs headphones is purely one of distraction, but accomodating a pre-existing disability versus allowing someone to voluntarily render themselves less able. Lack of hearing does make a driver less safe, but only marginally so and the benefit to the deaf driver is far greater than the marginal increase in risk to society.
We make similar risk-reward calculations in setting speed limits: it is ALWAYS safer to have all speed limits at 20mph, but we allow 65mph on the freeway.

I think SPE's got it right. It may in fact be more dangerous than for a person with hearing. But for a deaf person, a lot of normal activity is more dangerous, including walking and driving. They could choose to limit their lives, but why should they?

Sorry, SJE, not SPE.

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