Special Assignment: Driving Deaf

By: Kate Tillotson
By: Kate Tillotson

November 15, 2006

It happens to the people who drive fire trucks every day: people not pulling over or even slowing down for them to pass.

Oftentimes, it's because car stereos are simply louder than the sirens.

In a News 12 Special Assignment, Kate Tillotson exposes the dangers of driving deaf.

It's hard to believe that you could miss seeing something as big as a fire truck, especially with its siren blaring behind you.

But it actually happens...and often we have the volume controls in our cars to thank.

We've created our own personal concerts in our cars.

As great as it sounds, the vibrations may not be all that good...because by tuning in, we're often tuning out to what's around us.

Fire truck drivers say they're tired of having to fight traffic. After all, the last thing on their minds is you, the driver whose music is too loud to hear them coming.

"It's almost daily," says Chief Byron Taylor. "The sooner they realize there's emergency vehicles approaching them from the back, the more reaction time they have."

But how deaf can drivers really be?

We decided to test it, with the help of Dr. Andy Hauger, head of ASU's physics department.

We taped a sound meter to a driver's seat head rest, then blasted the stereo.

"The volume was up almost maximum, we were reaching about 90 decibels," Dr. Hauger said.

We brought in a fire truck about 150 feet behind the car and turned on the wailing siren.

The volume inside the car?

Just 65 decibels.

"It would not be really noticeable by the occupant of the car," Dr. Hauger said.

We moved the closer and closer.

It wasn't until it was 25 feet away that the siren was finally as loud as the stereo.

"Twenty five feet is right up on your bumper, really," Dr. Hauger said.

Imagine seeing a huge fire truck suddenly in your rear view mirror.

"[The driver] may go left, may go right, may just stop in the middle of the lane," Chief Taylor told us.

So the next time you feel like sounding off on the street, consider what's at stake.

Then ask yourself, "Do I really feel like driving deaf today?"

Also remember that the rules of the road that apply to you do not apply to emergency vehicles. They can run red lights and go over the speed limit. So when you see one approaching, you must put your signal on and pull over to the right.

There are consequences for failing to pull over, just like there are for failing to stop at a stop sign. If you fail to pull over or yield, you could be slapped with a $50 fine.

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