Music’s effect on driving

Music's Effect on Driving
Image by Faramarz Hashemi

Long trips, dull roads, traffic jams, or just a quick ride downtown – many motorists like to sweeten car rides with listening to their favorite song or the radio. But do you know about Music’s effect on driving and the possible outcome of listening to music while behind the wheel?

Despite the most popular belief that music is distracting while driving, causing the driver to become unfocused and cause accidents, there is actual proof that this is not true. Quite the contrary – the effects are rather positive!

A study by psychologist Ayça Berfu Ünal provides some interesting facts that show that experienced drivers do not lose their focus when listening to music, even when they are stuck in busy urban traffic.

The effects of music on driving

Ünal found out that, especially on monotonous roads, listening to music or other sounds like radio chatter keeps the motorist’s brains alert and stimulated. This prevents them from becoming bored and thus careless. In this case, music is actually a good distraction because it keeps the brain more focused on the road and the traffic around the driver.

Furthermore, when faced with busy traffic or a difficult maneuver, an experienced driver automatically blocks the distraction that comes from radio or music, concentrating on the task at hand.

Besides, listening to music is way less of a distraction than making a phone call. Calling someone, answering, listening, maybe even arguing or focusing on something completely different than the road is a major danger in road traffic. Listening to music is not as demanding – even when you sing along.

What kind of music?

A study conducted in Israel showed that novices that are learning to drive perform worse when listening to music they know and like, or when they listened to no music at all. Relaxing easy listening music, or music they were not familiar with – yet didn’t hate – reduced the rate of mistakes made drastically. A more experienced driver, however, is very well able to handle songs and music they enjoy as well.

So, where are the problems?

The main problems that result in the stereotype of music being distracting whilst driving result from points related to listening to music rather than the act itself.

A study by Memorial University in Newfoundland showed that high volume is a big source of distraction rather than the music played. When listening to extremely loud music, the reaction time to make a decision increased by 20%.

The main reason for distraction though is – who would have thought – the technology required to blast your favorite song. Browsing through long playlists or searching for this one particular song keep the driver’s eyes off of the road longer than simply jumping to the next song or handling shorter playlists.

Thus, not the music itself is the problem, but the actual song search (and increasing volume)! Just put on some easy to listen to music or calming natural sounds that ease your stressed mind, and stay focused. Letting out your frustrations behind the wheel is not worth as much as coming home safely!

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