Say you’re in the car with a Deaf person, the Deaf person is driving, and you need to communicate where to go. How do you do it? This video shows Auslan signs for giving directions:
at the traffic lights turn left,
go all the way to the end,
take the next street on the right,
take the third street on the left,
at the roundabout, turn right,
change lanes to the left,
change lanes to the right,
this is it!
Many hearing people aren’t sure whether it’s safe to talk to a Deaf person while they are driving or whether this could cause a crash. Most Deaf drivers can take in some conversation while driving, but prefer to save the bigger stuff for when they can give it their full attention. Our ability to converse while driving can vary wildly depending on the conditions and how tired we are. Most Deaf people do, however, find it easy to talk while driving. If I’m in the car with a Deaf friend, if she’s driving I’ll get her to tell me about herself, and when we arrive at our destination, I’ll fill her in on my life.
But is it safe for Deaf people to sign while driving? I can’t speak for everyone, but I believe that for me it’s no more distracting than it would be to have a spoken conversation. When I first got my drivers’ licence, I spent my early driving hours teaching myself how to drive with my knee. Having done this for over twenty years now, it feels seamless to switch between my knee and either of my hands, as the conversation requires. I pause conversation at difficult moments such as when I need to concentrate to find a gap in traffic. That said, if you are in a car with a Deaf person and it’s alarming you that they sign while driving, you could suggest postponing your conversation until you arrive at your destination. Deaf culture is pretty blunt, so feel free to let on that you feel scared/unsafe – this wouldn’t be impolite.
And.. just in case you have come this far in my Auslan course and are still feeling the need to ask, ‘can Deaf people drive?’ the answer is, obviously, yes. It’s no less safe than hearing drivers who turn up the music to a high volume – they too are relying solely on visual cues and not on the sound of traffic around them.