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Loud music a dangerous distraction

A new study finds that loud music while driving hits all the wrong notes for road safety

Do you like heavy rock, or are you more of a jazz person? Are you buoyed by pop but can’t stand classical?

Your answers could have as much an impact on your driving as it does on your listening pleasure, because a new study has found that different types of music can influence your ability to drive safely.

The research, from a quartet of expert bodies comprising Brunel University London, Coventry University, the Economic and Social Research Council, and insurer Direct Line, reveals the potential influence that factors such as volume and lyrics, can have on a driver’s ability to focus effectively in towns and cities.

It shows that soft music with a slow to moderate tempo and no lyrics can have a beneficial impact on drivers, whereas loud music makes drivers more mentally stimulated – which can have a negative impact when driving in urban areas.

Turning up the volume button on your car’s stereo has the most significant impact on a driver’s mind-set. The study found that motorists listening to soft, instrumental music reported 14% lower mental arousal – which can optimise urban driving focus – than those listening to loud instrumental music, and 21% lower than when listening to soft, lyrical music.

The findings are important, because music plays a big part in UK motorists’ driving lives.

Direct Line research found that 80% of drivers often listen to music when driving, while nearly half (48%) only listen to music when they’re behind the wheel.

And, as 17% say that they only listen to loud music with complex lyrics, such as some pop and rap, it means that nearly a fifth of the UK’s motorists may not be fully concentrating when driving.

Emotional triggers in music can make us feel either angry or aggressive, or even break down in teams. Listening to this sort of music while driving can resulted in heightened danger, can distract a driver to the point where they have a near miss with another vehicle or even a collision.

“The most important thing to consider when listening to music while driving is to ensure you are not mentally overloaded,” says Professor Costas Karageorghis from Brunel University London.

“A number of internal and external factors can influence this, but one of the easiest to control is our choice of auditory stimulation, whether it be talk radio, podcasts or music. Through minimising distractions, motorists are much better able to focus on the road and therefore stand a better chance of identifying potential hazards in good time.

“Drivers should consider the use of soft, non-lyrical music to optimise their mental state when driving in a stressful urban environment.”

Simon Henrick, from Direct Line, adds: “Music often plays an integral role in driving, from making the experience more enjoyable to improving our mood. These findings are therefore really interesting from a safety perspective, as they show that music can influence your level of focus when behind the wheel.

“The great thing about music is that it caters to everyone, so while we’re not telling drivers to change their preferences, we want to highlight the impact it can have on how someone drives. We would suggest that people are mindful of what they’re listening to and how it could affect both their emotions and their levels of concentration, especially in towns and cities.”

Top five tips for listening to music while driving

  1. Keep it calm. Avoid aggressive lyrics as these can prompt dangerous and risk-taking driving behaviours such as jumping red lights and speeding
  2. Keep it simple. Music that is highly syncopated or rhythmically complicated should also be avoided
  3. Keep it quieter. The music volume shouldn’t be excessive and kept at under 75 decibels, otherwise there is an increased risk of missing important sounds, such as an approaching motorcycle
  4. Keep it classic. It is advisable to use familiar, well-known tracks or those from the driver’s preferred genre, which are likely to have more of a feel-good flavour
  5. Keep it light. Avoid music that might have a negative impact on emotional state

Source: Direct Line and Brunel University London

Tom Johnston
Tom Johnstonhttp://johnstonmedia.com/
Tom Johnston was the first-ever reporter on national motoring magazine Auto Express. He went on to become that magazine’s News Editor and Assistant Editor, and has also been Motoring Correspondent for the Daily Star and contributor to the Daily and Sunday Express. Today, as a freelance writer, content creator and copy editor, Tom works with exciting and interesting websites and magazines on varied projects.
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