The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) recently announced that more than twenty deaf and hard of hearing truck drivers who submitted applications for an exemption from the DOT hearing requirements through the NAD in July 2011 are now being considered for full Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDL).
Although a victory for the deaf and hard of hearing, there are still many obstacles they are having to face, largely from various motor carriers who still refuse to hire even after the applicant has passed all required FMCSA and DOT standard tests.
Deaf Truckers United is a Facebook group hosted by Brenda Palmigiano and Dean DeRusso that focuses on the future of deaf truck drivers, currently with over 100 members.
They actively participate in discussions on current FMCSA rulings and are active in working toward gaining CMV driving priviledges for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Extensive studies have been conducted in the past, pertaining to the safe driving skills of those who are deaf or experience extensive hearing loss. These studies, some of which consist of hundreds of pages, have all concluded that deaf drivers are as safe or safer, than drivers with hearing.
A problem for the deaf who are wanting to be CMV drivers is that few studies exist correlating safety with deaf CMV drivers due to the restrictions under FAR 391.41(b)(11). Therefore, past studies were done on licensed private auto drivers of which is more acceptable and commonplace.
These studies continually showed that deaf drivers were as safe or safer operating a motor vehicle. Studies concluded that four senses play a major role in driving skill: vision, hearing, touch and smell. The studies showed that deaf or hard of hearing drivers compensated their loss of hearing by further empowering their other senses. One example given explained:
“When a tire was rubbing against a piece of steel on the truck, the deaf driver was able to smell the burning rubber and stop the vehicle before a problem occurred.”
Although accidents have occurred among deaf drivers, studies focused on the operation of a CMV suggest that the deaf or hard of hearing driver is most vunerable to accidents during off the road tasks such as performing the vehicle inspection.
Many of these studies are outdated, going back as far as the mid 1970’s. Today, modern technology has made it more possible for deaf drivers to operate a motor vehicle with even greater safety.
A larger problem for the deaf deals with the lack of support and knowledge such as:
- The need for deaf “driver friendly” materials
- Educating law enforcement and public transport systems personnel with “communication” skills
- Training for motor carriers, shippers, receivers on nonverbal improvements
Jesse Shelander, a member of Deaf Truckers United, expressed his concerns to the FMCSA during the 1st Annual Truck Driver Social Media Convention, with a simple message: “Let us drive.”
Here is his statement in its entirety:
“I would like to share with you briefly about the past in 1800’s, Deaf people would not even allowed to drive cars. They fought their legal rights to drive cars and they won because they proved themselves that they were better drivers than hearing drivers.”
“Somewhere down the road, there was a regulation 391.41 (b) (11) created under FMSCA that prevents many deaf people from driving trucks. I strongly felt that law is moot and outdated because I discovered that the auto insurance companies recognized us as Deaf drivers have better driving records than hearing drivers because our vision has taken over our ears.”
“I asked hearing truckers to see if they can hear 50 feet behind the wheel and they said no. If the hearing trucker can’t hear, then I strongly felt that there is nothing wrong with Deaf truckers to drive trucks.”
“FMSCA has created waivers for many years forcing deaf people to wear hearing aids that they do not need for their drivers with hope to gather evidence. Today there are no evidence of why people with over 40 DB hearing loss. Deaf people have found many modern technologies inside the truck that will assist them to detect any malfunction (i.e. airbrakes issues, warning light, PSI, qualicomm). And, yet the FMSCA has found any proof as deaf people drove for years effectively and no problems. There are no records of accidents.”
“Deaf Truckers are professional truck drivers. For some strange reason, Tuesday October 11, 2011, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) finally announced that the FMSCA will allow deaf people to drive with a Class A and B License. This is a history moment. We do not know if the pressure of the Social Media helped. But, we believe for past many years, we had many people get involved include Allen Smith of the Social media. We believe the hearing truckers issues are the same as the deaf truckers. We agree with the needs of hearing truckers and that the FMSCA is not doing a good job on ensuring that the RIGHT safety issues are overseen.”
“We are a perfect example of why the FMSCA is not doing their job. Our deaf truck drivers suffered for many years but the laws are still there. We do not want waivers to drive. We want to be treated as any driver out there. We are equal to them all. The truth is that it is all about the skills that we applied on daily basis just like any other hearing truckers perform on the job doing pre-trip inspection. If hearing trucker can perform the pre-trip inspection which it’s required by law before you go on the road, then Deaf trucker can do the same job as hearing trucker. We just need a paper in advance and go by numbers. If Deaf trucker can’t speak and can perform the driving job by using qualcomm to communicate, why discriminate against the Deaf trucker?”
“There are over 70 Deaf truckers over USA with no accident rates. We have found that in Canada and Australia, they do allow Deaf truckers to drive within their own country and why is it so hard in the United States of America?”
“We would like to propose to FMSCA removes the below laws because they are not safety issues.”
1) remove the three FMSCA regulations of 391.11(2), 391.41(b)(11), and 391.43(EARS).
2) We want to drive truck without any hearing aids requirements.
3) We want to remove to the requirement speak English because we need an ASL Interpreter from time to time.
“And we encourage the FMSCA to oversee the current laws that are false out there. There is a strong need to oversee the poor decisions of the FMSCA in the past and present. That is why we, the deaf community of truckers, and many truck drivers are here today. Because, the FMSCA are not doing the correct job to ensure that the true meaning of safety is upheld. Again, today there are many regulations that are falsely represented. Please remove them, including those three laws above.”
“Please remember that driving trucks is about SKILLS not about hearing.”