Does Music Make You an Unsafe Driver?

Whether music is a help or a hindrance behind the wheel is a much-debated topic. Find out what the experts have to say.

Music and driving have gone together since the first car radio was introduced around 1930. What would a road trip be without tunes?

But, with so much talk about distracted driving, it might be time to reexamine this relationship. Studies have shown that having a phone conversation while driving is highly distracting, and we all know texting while driving is even worse. So listening to music must be distracting too, right?

Or is it?

Several studies have been done on this subject, and the results vary considerably.

Conclusion #1: Music you like is more distracting.

A recent Israeli study conducted by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev found that teen drivers who listened to their preferred music made more driving errors. The 85 novice drivers each took 6 challenging road trips for approximately 40 minutes with an instructor. Music was played on 4 of the trips: 2 trips used songs from the driver’s own playlist, and 2 played a special mix of light jazz, soft rock, and easy listening designed by the researchers to enhance driver safety. The remaining 2 trips didn’t have any music.

When driving to their playlist, 98 percent of the drivers made serious mistakes (such as speeding, tailgating, or driving one-handed) versus 92 percent who made similar mistakes without music. Listening to the safe-driving music, however, decreased the rate of mistakes by 20 percent.

The researchers speculate that drivers listen more actively when they enjoy the music, which may cause them to pay less attention to the road.

Conclusion #2: Music actually improves concentration.

A Dutch study found that listening to music had no ill effect on driving ability. The drivers in the study, all between the ages of 19 and 25, were asked to make playlists of familiar songs they liked. That music was played as the subjects drove on a simulated road for 30 minutes in predictable, monotonous traffic. The results: they had no trouble following the car ahead of them, and they actually responded to changes in the lead car’s speed better than those who drove in silence. The music seemed to enhance the drivers’ energy and alertness. The study’s author was careful to note, however, that under stressful conditions, music might have a different effect.

Conclusion #3: It’s the volume that matters.

A study conducted by Memorial University in Newfoundland found that, no matter what kind of music was played, drivers’ reactions were slower when the volume was high. At 95 decibels (as loud as a power lawnmower), the time needed to make decisions increased by 20 percent.

Conclusion #4: The song search is the issue.

Once again, technology is to blame. According to research conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, scrolling through playlists on an MP3 player can impair driving performance. When drivers searched lists of 580 songs, they looked away from the road more often and for longer periods (over 2 seconds) when compared with shorter playlists. Aftermarket MP3 controllers intended to decrease distraction were not helpful — in fact, they actually lengthened the amount of time the drivers’ eyes were off the road.

Our conclusion …

Based on this conflicting data, we can’t say for sure whether music causes distraction behind the wheel or not. But, as with most things, common sense can make up for a lot of uncertainty. Any device that causes you to glance away from the road for several seconds should be avoided. And whether it impairs driving or not, excessively loud music can prevent you from hearing sirens or horns.

What do you think about music and driving? Does it distract you or help you focus? Would you listen to music you disliked if you thought it would make you more alert? Share your views below.

Related posts

Find out how technology can help drivers stay focused.
Read more interesting facts about distracted driving.

65 Responses to “Does Music Make You an Unsafe Driver?”

  1. Shameka Thomas
    September 18, 2013 #

    I think so. Especially how loud you may have it. You need to hear around you.

  2. yolander
    September 18, 2013 #

    I think that music doesn't make u a unsafe driver testing and talking on the phone is.

  3. Chris Shoemaker
    September 18, 2013 #

    Makes me a better driver because of the different paces of the music being played so you don't become road zoned by hearing nothing but the tires against the pavement

  4. Rebecca Burton
    September 18, 2013 #

    I think music adds to a car trip. It is a pleasure to listen to the music and helps relax you for a better driving experience.

  5. ppetroline
    September 18, 2013 #

    A lot of food for thought. I drive better & stay more focused when I'm listening to music I like. I think a big problem is driving with the music too loud.

  6. Carmen Marie
    September 18, 2013 #

    I have to say I drive with the radio on at all time…I even had to turn off in the past to hear my GPS but I realized with out the distraction I was more focus of the idiots on the road and made me angry so now even if the GPS is on the radio is always on even if its low in volume.

  7. Larry
    September 18, 2013 #

    I understand

  8. veronica whitlock
    September 18, 2013 #

    I agree that it does. I do not listen to music while driving. If necessary, I listen to traffic on the 8's when in a jam. (That's traffic jam, not strawberry!)

    • Pankaj K Tyagi
      September 20, 2013 #

      I agree that it does. I do not listen to music at all while driving + discourages others.

    • Michael
      September 20, 2013 #

      No it does not make you a unsafe driver. Music keeps me from going crazy in traffic.

  9. Mark Alexander
    September 18, 2013 #

    I listen to music depending on my mood or the traffic, but it is almost always the radio and only 3-4 channels so not a lot of channel changing (my controls are on the wheel) and no looking away to look at playlists as I listen to what the radio has on.

    • mike
      September 20, 2013 #

      If driving while driving is dangerous..then let me drive

  10. Danielle Verrette
    September 18, 2013 #

    I think music while driving helps. If i can't find a song on the radio it gives me rode rage. Music really helps to calm me.

  11. Gregg S.
    September 18, 2013 #

    MOST(not all) music soothes the savage "Road Rage) beast.

  12. Armin Klatt
    September 18, 2013 #

    I do mot believe that music does not make you an unsafe driver unless you distract yoursedlf by constantly changing or looking for stations while driving. Set your desired station before you stat out and leave it there. Armin Klatt

  13. vaNessa Josey
    September 18, 2013 #

    Only if u play your music to loud to hear your surroundings.

  14. ugreen
    September 18, 2013 #

    I feel that listening to music while driving can be safe if you're not playing with the radio controls and taling your eyes off the road. It can be unsafe if it's too loud and you can't hear on coming emergency vehicles.

  15. Jean
    September 18, 2013 #

    I have always listened to music while driving. I find that when I'm sleepy, listening to it and singing along helps to keep me alert.

  16. Pat
    September 18, 2013 #

    Music makes me happy. I drive in heavy traffic to and from work every day. My usual drive is 1.25 hrs one way. That's 2.5 hours, in heavy traffic, in my car, with only music to keep me happy. It definitely helps me!!!

  17. Ada Santiago
    September 19, 2013 #

    I listen to Z Radio (Christian music) while driving and it soothes me. I don't let things bother me, like a tourist cutting me off, I'm polite and give a chance for a car to enter the lane, etc.

  18. Alisa Brown
    September 19, 2013 #

    NO AND I LOVE LISTENING TO SONGS ON THE RADIO WHILE DRIVING I THINK IT'S MORE RELAXING BECAUSE SOME OF THE SONGS YOU WANT TO HEAR COMES ON AND YOU DON'T OF TO Constantly CHANGING THE STATION. THAT'S WHEN IT'S UNSAFE.

  19. Cierra
    September 19, 2013 #

    Hands free radio controls help the driver be less distracted!

  20. trishgoo
    September 19, 2013 #

    I find that Music helps keep me awake and alert Other wise cars make me sleepy I know a number of people who also use music in the car to keep them alert.

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