The influence of music on driving - positive or negative?

Most of us remember audio cassettes and the good old times when we made our own mixtapes from songs we like most to make the driving experience even more pleasurable, whether we just drove around the city or set forth on an open road. Today, cassettes are history, but the pleasure of listening to music while driving and the wish to have a clearer sound, better audio surrounding and a vast choice of music and audio devices inside a car are stronger than ever. Some research findings even indicate that 60% of drivers believe that listening to music makes them happier.

From the first commercially available car radio launched in 1930, reserved for the well-off car owners, to the digital revolution and modern audio devices that stream radio stations through a satellite and play music directly from smartphones, music and radio make an essential part of the everyday driving pleasure.

Car radio

What comes as a surprise is the fact that even in the Western markets, the classic AM/FM radio is still the most popular among drivers, although we would expect from these markets to have turned more to digital and mobile audio. A research conducted last year by LOOP and provided to the Music Business Association was based on a survey of 3,014 citizens of the USA. The survey reveals that 75% of respondents who have an audio device installed in their car mostly listen to the radio, 38% say that they use CD players to listen to music, 15% stream Internet radio, while only 18% use digital files. 55% of the younger generation use mobile audio which shows us in which direction the future of listening to music goes.

Car radio

However much the technology advanced and the in-car audio experience improved, a question about how much music really influences the driver’s behaviour in traffic has been hovering for decades. There are many studies on this topic, but none of them can prove that the influence is either positive or negative. What we really need to pay attention to are the various conditions and circumstances under which we listen to music while driving, and their influence on the driver’s caution.

Tempo

Did you know that the human heart follows the tempo of the music you are listening to? This means that faster songs (for example 120 beats per minute) make your heart beat faster, often making you wish to drive faster and more aggressively. Experts recommend that you listen to more “calm” songs that are similar in speed to the optimum heart rate (60 to 80 beats per minute), because in this case music actually relaxes you. This can be especially useful when you find yourself driving through dense city traffic because, in this case, music helps you isolate yourself from the environmental noise and focus on driving. As we are aware that not many of us will check the tempo of every song, we suggest that you listen to a few songs at home and follow the signs your body is sending you - whether the selected songs make you calm and relaxed, or aggressive or more impulsive. Those that make you more calm and relaxed are definitely the best choice and can serve as an example of what songs to include in your playlist.

Car

Volume

One thing that studies agree upon and practice proves is that, regardless of the type of music, its loudness may distract the driver and extend reaction time. A research conducted at the Memorial University of Newfoundland reveals that at 95 decibels (as loud as a power lawnmower), the time needed to make decisions increased by 20 percent.

Scenes from our favourite movies that show the main actor “pump up the volume” and dance a bit behind the wheel are better left to the Hollywood movie directors. Such situations surely lead to making mistakes and diminish the possibility of reacting in a timely manner to unpredicted circumstances.

Music genres

Some studies tried to find a connection between a music genre and driving behaviour, but for the purpose of this article, we will mention only a few of them. While dubstep and hip-hop are rated as risky in a sense that they stimulate a more aggressive driving style, jazz is linked to speeding and songs with complex lyrics and composition act distracting. Classical music was rated as the safest. If classical music is not your first choice (and we believe it is not in this part of the world) we advise you to make your own compilation that consists of calm and relaxing songs. It is important that the music you listen to does not affect you emotionally so that it doesn’t divert your attention from the road.

Age and level of experience

What we definitely shouldn’t disregard is the driver’s age and level of experience. It is known that younger generations and less experienced people are prone to making mistakes or even careless driving, so our advice would be to take extra care and be mindful of everything that might be distracting, whether it is faster music, loud music, scrolling through playlists or your favourite song

Driver

What we all surely noticed is that professional drivers usually listen to the radio or some soothing compilation of popular music in the background. The trouble with young and inexperienced drivers is that loud and aggressive music usually goes along with reckless driving and alcohol consumption, the consequences of which we have seen one too many times on our roads.

One thing is important - your focus should be on the road and not on the music. The music you listen to inside your car should relieve stress, make the atmosphere more comfortable and help you concentrate, and not distract you.

We hope you find these pieces of advice useful. Feel free to write to us for any question, suggestion or comment.

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