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.

64 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.

  21. Lynn
    September 19, 2013 #

    i LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE DRIVING ,IT'S RELAXING KEEPS YOU FROM GETTING
    STRESSED OUT !

  22. Sandra
    September 19, 2013 #

    Listening to music when driving is fine if it is the radio and not an Ipod music can be relaxing so pay attention to the traffic and be ssfe control yourself from getting involved in any rosd rage.

  23. Christine
    September 19, 2013 #

    Listening to the radio. I have no problems. But when I plug in my I pod on my way to work, I will admit that I tend to look at it than pay attention to the road. I think it depends on the person and situation in which they're driving. when my son's are in the car I listen to children's music and have conversations with my 5 year old. It doesn't impair my driving whatsoever.

  24. nick kramer
    September 19, 2013 #

    I listen to music all the time. The only way it becomes a distraction is if your constantly changing staions. That takes your eyes and attention off the road.

  25. Brady
    September 19, 2013 #

    Well written article. Puts the different elements of listening to music on paper with a clear cut, precision accuracy aimed directly at your face :).

  26. Scott C Cordts
    September 19, 2013 #

    I think you can listen to whatever you want regardless if a song distracts you from save driving maybe you should ride a bike or take the bus…..

  27. Sera
    September 20, 2013 #

    When I was in college, the only way I could get through late nite of studying was music. It also keeps me calm and alert when I am driving. **Music stimulates the mind. (**your own choice of music)

  28. Pamela thompson
    September 20, 2013 #

    It seems to me that the listening is not the problem but the changing og the volume or station is indeed a distraction.

  29. Josh Mac
    September 20, 2013 #

    Music is perfectly safe and if it is not then that person should be responsible enough turn off the radio

  30. Caitlyn Calvo
    September 20, 2013 #

    I love listening to music while I drive.

  31. Laurel White
    September 20, 2013 #

    Balance is the key I guess, listen to what you like but keep the volume down and decide what you are going to listen to before you leave.

  32. Josephine Freeman
    September 20, 2013 #

    I think it could be good or bad depending on the weather

  33. John
    September 20, 2013 #

    I Believe that it all depends on the music that you are listening to, although I find that when I listen to talk radio I drive the safest.

  34. Erophili Kaparakes
    September 20, 2013 #

    I think music can help you relax more while driving. If you get into the groove of the music it can help you drive better.

  35. deepzek
    September 20, 2013 #

    I listen to Metal and my radio is always very loud while driving, sometimes it makes me more aggressive driver but I never make mistakes or disobey rules.

  36. Joshua
    September 20, 2013 #

    I agree, when I play the music I like, I am very distracted. Bad music makes me concentrate.

  37. Jennifer J
    September 20, 2013 #

    This sounds like common sense. Anything that causes your attention to wander from what you are doing can't be good no matter what it is.

  38. JimiC
    September 20, 2013 #

    I entertain the possibility that music is not the distraction. The routine of driving is distracting, especially if one drives the same route and sees the same people at work day after day. Music is such a major part of my life and I am grateful that we have the technology which allows me to have it wherever I am.

  39. Bear
    September 20, 2013 #

    i like to listen to NPR and WNRN listener supported independent music radio here in Virginia while driving. i feel it relaxes me and holds my attention. ya know – driving long distances can be rather boring if you are alone. bear

  40. Lesly
    September 20, 2013 #

    The point I believe is to stay focus on the road and other cars around you. Loud music does not help when it comes to hearing sirens such as an emergency vehicle.

  41. Shienna Sun
    September 20, 2013 #

    I love to listen to music even when I drive. Music cheers me up and enlighten my days. Driving without music is really a time wasted specialy during rush hour traffic.

  42. Jessicah
    September 21, 2013 #

    No It Doesn't I Believe , I Think Being Unavailably Aware Of Your Surroundings Is Unsafe , So Eyes Must Be Kept On The Road Even If You Are Jamming To Your Favorite Song .

  43. Kerry Auzenne
    September 21, 2013 #

    I never listen to music in the cat

  44. Eugenio
    September 21, 2013 #

    I would say use your common sense in this and other matters.

  45. Kristie
    September 21, 2013 #

    i think music helps with focus as long as its not to loud . i keep my radio on same station if its changed its passenger changing it .life with kids lol but i truely think it helps with keeping focused and aleart

  46. Sarah
    September 21, 2013 #

    I remember when I just start driving. there is one time, I was waiting the traffic light, while singing with the music. When the music rich the best part, I started singing so load and stepped on gas, and left the intersection while the light was still red. That was really dangerous. Glad there is no car at that time. I think it is ok to listen to music while driving, but it's only for those who has many years driving experience, and for those who can totally control themselves. not for beginners.

  47. kamikazeballerina
    September 21, 2013 #

    the only time I don't listen to music in the car is when i'm lost or following my gps.

  48. disgo
    September 21, 2013 #

    Having to drive alone across the state (Inland Plateau) can be very monotonous (many stretches without radio in the day) with its long straight stretches of road. Thank goodness for cassette tapes and later CDs which passed the time keeping me alert and enjoying the drab scenery. And now with random modes there is a great variety without having to turn or touch anything! Listen to classical and old American songbooks so still hear outside sounds readily. Very calming during dark winter storms with snow drifting over freeway–would end up with whole line of vehicles following my path that way! Drove through a rare ID tornado once while Beethoven's storm in his Sixth was playing–memorable experience but wont repeat ever again!

  49. Robert
    September 21, 2013 #

    I believe that music does not make you an unsafe driver, as long as you put in a CD before you start driving, you put it at a normal volume, and as long as you are not dancing around you should be safe and comfortable.

  50. ron embree
    September 21, 2013 #

    Beats falling asleep to the hypnotic humming of your tires and engine.

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