Driver, Can You Hear Me?


A San Francisco judge allows United Parcel Service to continue blanketly not hiring the hearing impaired as drivers–even of smaller trucks–pending their appeal of his ruling last month that

those with poor hearing should "be given the same opportunities that a hearing applicant would be given to show that they can perform the job of package-car driver safely and effectively."

The government itself forbids by law the hearing impaired from driving trucks of over 10,000 pounds, which implies that they understand the principle that there are certain dangers involving driving without good hearing that are best avoided altogether. Trucks under 10,000 pounds can still be pretty dangerous if the operator can't hear what's going on around him on the road. Just as UPS will be held responsible for the damage its drivers do, so should it be able to institute and carry out policies that in its judgement will help eliminate the possibility of such damage.

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  1. I, as a San Franciscan, am not in the least surprised at the absolute stupidity of this SF judge. San Franciscans may be highly educated, but most lack anything that could be called wisdom.

  2. Now, about those cell phones…

  3. As the writer points it, if they hired deaf drivers and one of those drivers got in a wreck due to their disability UPS would get their ass handed to them in a lawsuit. Welcome to modern labor and tort jurisprudence: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  4. Now, about those cell phones

    It’s legal for companies to ban their drivers from using cell phones on the road, isn’t it?

  5. I’ve only known one deaf driver, a neighbor. He hit something and smashed up the front end, then repaired it.

    His muffler failed, and he never fixed it, so it was easy to hear him coming and going at all hours of the night.

    All told, I know drivers with perfect hearing who have damaged the front of their vehicles and left their mufflers in disrepair.

    As a segment of the population, I havent noticed a connection between bad and unsafe driving and the deaf. It seems to me that hearing is most important in hearing horns. Even I detect emergency vehicles by their flashing lights – usually when they are beyond audio range.

    My gut says that unsafe drivers tend to be the ignorant (young, poor) and the arrogant (old, wealthy).

    Oh, and on the cell phone issue, all evidence I’ve seen indicates that the conversation is the distraction, not holding the phone and driving with one hand.

    My mom could never drive with a cell phone because she always closes her eyes when she’s on the phone (the whole time – like she’s imagining the other person).

  6. ….all evidence I’ve seen indicates that the conversation is the distraction….

    Any driver so apt to be distracted by talking on a mobile phone better not converse with any passengers, or, Ghu help him, travel with kids in the car.

    Are these non-hearing UPS drivers supposed to be able to interact with customers? As a former shipping/receiving clerk, I’d sure hate to try to communicate my needs to the driver, who is also a salesman for Brown’s services. “No, I don’t know whose car that is. No, I can’t move it. Shall I bring my handtruck out to you and we’ll offload where you are? I’m expecting a next-day-air package. Do you have it or is it being delivered by another driver? Hold your horses, I’ll sign for the packages AFTER I count them. There, see you tomorrow.”

    I’d hate to have to input all that on some text-message device.


  7. Brian,

    Is there any data that supports the claim that the deaf make bad drivers or is it just perception?

  8. I don’t know that hearing impaired folks (that’s a GIANT category) are necessarily worse drivers than soccer moms with 3 kids or folks with their stereos turned up louder than a Who concert. But driving delivery trucks may include some factors that would make a level of hearing impairment unsatisfactory. Consider:

    -Delivery trucks are large vehicles, even under 10,000 pounds.

    -Delivery trucks generally have poorer visibility and larger blind spots, being panel trucks or vans with no windows.

    -Delivery trucks can be very loud (who DOESN’T know when the UPS truck is coming down the street?), which masks other sounds.

    -Delivery drivers log much higher mileage than normal drivers.

    Given factors such as these, and the liability that UPS would assume having persons with identified hearing impairments on their delivery roster, I think that UPS is well justified in having a blanket restriction, otherwise they have an incremental nightmare of setting acceptable levels of hearing loss.

  9. hey neb!

    “My gut says that unsafe drivers tend to be the ignorant (young, poor) and the arrogant (old, wealthy).”

    i’d like to see that and raise you the 1) trixies with kids and suv and cell phone and add 2) trixies before kids.

    you know – trixies – the types who were in the “put out popular” sororities at THE OSU or the other big ten schools and moved to chicago. often they go by “hiii. i’mmmm suuusan from cinncinnnattttiiiii”

    or something like that.

  10. I don’t know that hearing impaired folks (that’s a GIANT category) are necessarily worse drivers than soccer moms with 3 kids

    Yes, but isn’t UPS allowed to forbid its drivers from having a bunch of kids in vehicle with them?

    You people are missing the point. Yes, there are things more dangerous than “driving while deaf”. That’s beside the point. The point is that “driving while deaf” is a form of risky behavior that people are no longer allowed to forbid their employees from engaging in — they are legally forced to assume both the risk and the liability.

  11. What Dan said.

    The issue isn’t whether or not its actually safe. The point is that UPS should be able to be as selective as they please in their hiring.

  12. You know, normally I consider anti-discrimination laws fairly low on my list of priorities. Being a consequentialist left-libertarian, it just seems like a lower priority than, say, zoning laws that inflate housing costs for low-income families, regulations that drive up health care costs, drug laws that fuel urban crime, a tax code that micromanages the economy in favor of well-connected people who can get a Congressman to add an amendment to a bill, entitlement programs that impose a growing burden on young workers, etc.

    But this is just ridiculous. If this is the natural consequence of anti-discrimination laws then I guess those laws will have to move up on my list of priorities.

    Incidentally, notice the way I described those bad government programs. I didn’t say a word about property rights, economics, “I don’t owe you parasites anything!”, or other favorite subjects of right-libertarians. I just talked about how these programs are hurting people, including constituencies who tend to vote for Democrats. I realize that such characterizations would never win over die-hard leftists, but talking in those terms might win over some ordinary people who vote for Democrats.

  13. thoreau, there you go being all reasonable again. Stop it. Those parasites aren’t entitled to anything and you know it, so quite suger-coating the matter, lefty. 🙂 (Yes, I am very bored at work.)

  14. Lowdog-

    I wonder how an LP candidate would fare if he campaigned amongst Democratic constituencies with a platform of “Affordable housing, affordable health care, less crime, and lower taxes.” And if somebody asked him how this would happen he gave answers like:

    “I’m going to stand up to the big landlords. We need more housing in this community so that working families can afford a place to live! I’ll stand up to the big rental companies and fight for more housing for working families!”

    “Most of your health care dollars are going to paper-pushers at big health care companies. I want to get rid of the paper-pushers and make health care be about the patients, doctors, and nurses again.” (This is true: Regulatory burdens mean that there’s a hell of a lot of paper-pushers at HMO’s, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies.)

    “Right now every young worker is paying payroll taxes to support retirees, the vast majority of whom have significant savings accounts, personal retirement accounts, real estate, and corporate pensions. For many young workers these payroll taxes constitute more than a third of their total federal taxes. I want to stop asking young workers to subsidize the lifestyles of elderly people with hefty bank accounts and real estate. I also want to get rid of the loopholes that enable people with lobbyists to avoid paying taxes while young workers who lack the time or money to work with accountants pay handsomely.”

    (Some libertarians may be aghast at the last statement in there, but revenue-neutral tax simplification would deny the politicians a major tool of economic micromanagement, making the US economy more efficient without giving the politicians any more money to squander.)

    “Right now large portions of our inner cities are dominated by violent drug gangs. It’s clear that the best way to deal with drugs is to help addicts get treatment. I want to flush the money out of the black market, break the backs of the gangs, and let drug addicts get help from doctors, churches, families, and 12 step programs.”

    Sure, these answers aren’t too specific, but they are perfectly accurate descriptions of a libertarian position, and they play into the “us vs. them” mentality that drives much of 2-party politics. These statements promise low-income workers a better life while bashing rich people and corporations. Yet at no point do any of these statements promise bigger government.

  15. Obviously the real problem nowadays is that deaf drivers are always text-messaging on their phones at the wheel, it’s incredibly distracting.

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