The holiday season is around the corner and many of us will be driving to our destination. With music turned on, naturally.
Listening to music in the car is a popular activity, but have you ever wondered how it affects your driving, and whether it affects it at all? Perhaps, like me, you have come to some conclusions based on your personal experience. I can say that I do not like loud and jarring music while driving, because it sets my teeth on edge. Then again, I never like loud and jarring music… The strange thing I noticed only recently is that I also do not like to have my favourites playing, because somewhere at the end of the song I infallibly realise that I haven’t really listened to it.
But what does research say about the impact of music while driving on physiological state and performance of the driver? If you expect a definitive answer, don’t hold your breath. It turns out that there have been very few studies on this subject. What’s more, their findings are contradictory… Here are some of the most pertinent conclusions taken from four different studies:
Study # 1: Young and inexperienced drivers who listen to high tempo music (such as dance or techno music) drive more aggressively and are more distracted. On the other hand, drivers who listen to slower music are calmer, but also placated to the extent that they are less focused on driving and more prone to making mistakes.
Study # 2: Music can positively impact driving in slow, monotonous traffic; it enhances the drivers’ energy and alertness, thus contributing to safe behaviour. Additionally, driving performance in high demand situations is not negatively affected by music. The study’s author noted music might have a different effect under stressful conditions.
Study # 3: Regardless of the kind of music played, drivers’ reactions are slower when the volume is high. At 95 decibels (which is as loud as a power lawnmower), the time needed to make decisions increases by 20%.
Study #4: Scrolling through playlists on an MP3 player can impair driving performance. When drivers search long lists of songs, they look away from the road more often and for longer periods of time than when they search through short playlists. The MP3 controllers intended to decrease distraction are not helpful: in fact, they lengthened the amount of time drivers’ eyes are off the road.
So, what is a musical motorist to do?
Be guided by our common sense, of course. We know that we do not want the volume cranked up so much that it obliterates the sounds around us, such as a warning honk; we know that our focus is always must be on the driving, and not on the notes; we also know better than to fiddle with our MP3 player or radio if it means taking our eyes off the road for several seconds.
As for singing along and swaying to the tunes in the car… These activities are definitely not recommended for the driver! At best, you’ll get some astonished glances from fellow-motorists at the red light, and worst… Let’s not even talk about that.