Role of Driver Hearing in Commercial Motor Vehicle Operation: An Evaluation of the FHWA Hearing Requirement
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) currently requires that all persons seeking a commercial driver's license for interstate commerce possess a certain minimal level of hearing. After an extensive literature review on topics related to hearing and driving, a human factors engineering approach was used to evaluate the appropriateness of this hearing requirement, the methods currently specified to test drivers' hearing, and the appropriate hearing levels required. Task analysis, audiometry, dosimetry, in-cab noise measurements, and analytical prediction of both speech intelligibility and masked thresholds were all used in performing the evaluation. One of the methods currently used to test truck driver hearing, the forced-whisper test, was also evaluated in a laboratory experiment in order to compare its effectiveness to that of standard pure-tone audiometry.
Results indicated that there are truck driving tasks which require the use of hearing, that truck drivers may be suffering permanent hearing loss as a result of driving, that team drivers may be approaching a 100% OSHA noise dose over 24 hours, and that truck-cab noise severely compromises the intelligibility of live and CB speech, as well as the audibility of most internal and external warning signals. The forced whisper experiment demonstrated that there is significant variability in the sound pressure level of whispers produced using this technique (in the words, word types, and trials main effects). The test was found to be repeatable for a group of listeners with good hearing, but was found to have only a weak relationship to the results of pure-tone audiometry for a group of 21 subjects with hearing levels ranging from good to very poor. Several truck cab and warning signal design changes, as well as regulatory changes, were recommended based on the overall results of this evaluation.