Hearing loss from driving a convertible: reality or myth?

April 29, 2011 Swedish Health Team


In this article:

  • A research paper explored whether it is possible to suffer damage to hearing from driving a convertible.

  • The paper found that noise levels exceeded the limits on noise levels for occupational safety in the U.S.

  • Visit an audiologist at Swedish if you are concerned about noise exposure and damage to your hearing.

Can driving a convertible affect your hearing? Leave it to the Brits to address the question with scientific rigor and analysis! 

Researchers from the Worcestershire Royal Hospital in the UK published a short but information-packed article in the August edition of the journal Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, the first paper to examine this issue. They looked at seven different types of convertible cars (Audi A4, Porsche 911, Aston Martin V8 Vantage, Morgan Roadster, Bentley Continental GT, Toyota MR2, and a Mazda MX5) driving at 50, 60 and 70 mph with windows raised and down. They placed a noise sensor on the traffic side of the car (on the right in the UK) and took three separate measurements in each condition. All tests were done on similar roadways and in non-rush hour traffic to minimize data contamination.

The researchers found no difference in noise levels between the different types of cars or at the speeds measured. All of the averaged (mean) testing results with the windows down could exceed the limit of 85 dB (89.1 dB +/- 0.7 dB) set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for occupational noise exposure. However, just rolling up the windows of the cars (with the top still down) dropped the noise below accepted levels to avoid hearing loss (84.2 +/- 1.0 dB). These results did not take into account the impact of rear wind deflectors since not all of the cars had them available. Noise levels were increased when the test cars were passed by loud vehicles (e.g., big trucks).

What should you do if your only chance to get a tan is when you drive your car with the lid off? Consider keeping your windows up. Hearing protection is typically not a good idea when you drive since it can limit your ability to hear traffic and other environmental sounds around you.

You can tolerate 85 dB for up to eight hours, so take breaks if you need to do a long drive with the top down. If you turn up your radio to hear the music with the lid off of your car, be aware that you may be increasing your noise exposure as well. You can also download a noise meter app on your phone to assess your risk while driving.

While you don’t need to give up a beloved convertible, knowing your risks and acting to mitigate them can help prevent hearing loss in the future.

Find a doctor

If you are concerned about possible hearing loss, contact Audiology Services at Swedish. We can accommodate both in-person and virtual visits.

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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