The role of hearing in road safety and how Europe can set the course

Hearing loss has significant repercussions for road safety, for pedestrians and drivers alike. Any level of hearing loss can affect people’s ability to perceive and quickly react to auditory cues while navigating traffic.  

The EU is attempting to improve its road safety record. While there has been some progress, the most recent data suggests this has stalled in recent years. The latest statistics for 2023 show that while there was a small drop in the number of fatalities, few EU countries are on track to meet the target of halving the number of road deaths by 2030. 

Europe’s rapidly ageing demographic means hearing loss will become a more prevalent issue for those looking to improve road safety outcomes. Increased awareness of hearing loss could make a meaningful difference when it comes to safer roads across the continent.

Changing demographics put more road users at risk

People aged 65 and over are at significantly greater risk when it comes to road traffic fatalities, representing 29% of all road deaths despite accounting for only 21% of the population.  Among the 65 and over population, pedestrians and cyclists represent a higher proportion overall of road traffic fatalities, with pedestrians making up 29% of fatalities and cyclists 17% compared to 18% and 10% respectively for the overall population.

While research has found that drivers with impaired hearing are able to drive a vehicle as safely as the rest of the population – and other studies have found that the crash risk was actually lower for those with hearing impairment – there are significant risks when it comes to safety as a road user with hearing loss. Studies have shown that adult pedestrians and cyclists with moderate hearing loss are at a higher risk of being injured by a vehicle, because they find it difficult to identify which direction sounds are coming from.

Meanwhile, the share of the population aged 65 years and over is increasing in every EU country. This ongoing shift in Europe’s demographics means the specific risk factors for older people, including those with hearing loss, must be considered when it comes to addressing the topic of road safety. 

The role of hearing aids in safer roads 

Advancements in hearing aid technology are continuing to support and improve road safety. For example, modern hearing aids are equipped with advanced features to improve road safety for individuals with hearing impairments, such as directional microphones and connectivity with vehicle systems.  

Evidence from recent EuroTrak surveys shows that hearing aids increase how safe people with hearing loss feel when moving through traffic-heavy environments such as city centres. When asked about the impact of hearing aids on their perceived safety in urban environments, 83% of Italian hearing aid owners and 87% of Spanish hearing aid owners said they feel more confident moving in a city since wearing hearing aids, e.g. because they can hear traffic signals/vehicles approaching. In Germany, two-thirds of those surveyed said they feel more confident when driving a car or cycling a bicycle on their own since wearing hearing aids, and 71% said they feel more confident moving in a city since wearing hearing aids.  

Proactive approach to road safety for all required

Proactive measures such as the promotion of regular hearing screenings and awareness-raising campaigns can help reduce the risks associated with driving with untreated hearing loss. Individuals who are aware of their decreased hearing ability can take advantage of hearing aid technology to improve their safety on the road, whether driving, cycling, or walking in an urban area. 

The inherent risks associated with hearing loss means any measures to improve road safety must be inclusive of all road users, including those with potential hearing impairment. Individuals with hearing impairments face various challenges with road safety, both as drivers and as pedestrians, but with the right steps they can safely maintain mobility.  


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