Does Music Distract Drivers?

music and driving

Before you start blaring Gangnam Style (or something similarly ridiculous) in your car, be aware that it can have an impact on your driving (not to mention your reputation!). Playing music in your car has previously been thought of as a driving distraction, much like using your cellphone. Distracted driving can prove to be dangerous, and at times even fatal. However, a new study now shows that playing music actually helps you be a better driver. Here’s how:


Monotonous Traffic and Focus

A recent study conducted in drivers (between 25-35 years of age) found that listening to music while driving actually helps you focus more on the road. That’s right it helps you focus- we can pretty much dismiss the myth that listening to Metallica, or similarly loud music, turns drivers into road-rage maniacs. This works on the premise that we all need some degree of arousal to stop us from getting bored on monotonous traffic situations. Music seems to be key in keeping us alert, especially on long drives. The study asked participants to drive behind another car for 30 minutes on a quiet road. Those who were listening to music while driving actually performed better on this task, than those who drove without music. Solo road trip?-Make sure to turn on Adele.


Heavy Traffic and Music

When it came to heavily trafficked urban areas, drivers had a disposition to lower the volume of the music in order to more fully concentrate on the roadways. For this study, drivers were not able to lower or turn off the music. However, drivers were able to block out the distraction to the point where they could not even remember what was playing. In these types of scenarios, and scenarios that required more concentration, such as reversing or parallel parking, safety became priority and drivers were able to block out distractions. The concrete finding was that people listening to music while driving do not drive less well in both busy and quiet traffic.


Other Factors

Ayça Berfu Ünal of the University of Groningen, who led this study, went on to comment that this study did not analyze how people respond to driving and listening to talk radio. Much like talking on the phone, listening to something that really interests us makes huge mental demands on our cognitive abilities. It is also important to note your limits. Different people have different tolerance levels for loud music. The results of this study do not apply to motorists who are just learning to drive. The impact of listening to music and driving is also another area to examine in the elderly, because of their declining cognitive capacities due to aging.


According to this study, listening to music while driving is not distracting to drivers. Keep in mind that this does not take into account whether it was driver-chosen music (which tends to result in more driving mistakes), or music that the researchers chose for the purpose of the study. Another caveat is that this type of study likely represents the subjects most lawful driving behavior.


What type of music helps you drive better, if any?

Author: Joan Evans

Joan Evans is a mental health specialist and has a great interest in personality disorders. In her spare time she likes to go to the woods with her golden retriever, Leroy, and write fiction.

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