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Sounds on the Road

It started with a specially created ‘mix tape’, then came the CDs (all put back in a rush into the wrong boxes) and it has currently settled rather lazily on a radio station – demanding nothing of me ‘choice-wise.’ 

But give me the prospect of a long journey and I want control back; out comes the iPod (on shuffle – the order doesn’t matter, obviously they are all classics), the podcasts and the idea of purchasing my first audiobook (yes, some of technology has remained a mystery to me up until now). 

Since passing my test, I have found it difficult to drive in silence. And I’m not alone.


So, what are we all listening to? And can it affect our driving?

As with all forms of entertainment, our choices of ‘audio to keep us company’ while driving has increased. When we combine our commute with learning a language, even sitting in traffic feels like ‘gained time.’ And when would we otherwise have found the time to listen to that Alain de Botton podcast? 

For those of you with no desire to multitask - good old music is always a welcomed addition. Or is it? 

A recent study by scientists at the South China University of Technology suggests that listening to rock music is likely to make your driving worse. 

Using a group of students aged 22 – 27 years and a driving simulator, each of them were asked to navigate a 6-lane motorway for a period of 20 minutes while their driving behaviours were monitored. 

On average, their driving was around 5mph faster when listening to rock music, compared to more gentle music (or silence), while the frequency of lane -changing doubled - from an average of 70 to 140 times! 

It is thought that the fast tempo, complicated rhythmic patterns and the increased volume that rock music ‘demands’ were to blame for the upsurge in aggression.


But does this affect everyone in the same way? Scientists from the University of Negev, Israel published in 2013 the finding that ‘background music’ was a particular risk factor in distracting young and novice drivers. But even those older and experienced drivers can find themselves influenced by the power of music. 

We are all aware that certain music compels you to dance, to cry, encourages you to work-out - so it stands to reason that the same feelings can be transferred to your driving behaviours. 

Any music with between 180-280 BPM (beats per minute) is in the ‘danger zone’, but anything greater than 120 BPM is believed to negatively impact the standard of your driving. 

American Idiot by Green Day was found to be the most ‘dangerous’ song to drive to out of 96 ‘most popular’ on Spotify – in a study by Moneybarn. While Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin has been offered as an example of one of the ‘least dangerous.’ 

Ok, so now we’ve made the link between the type of music that encourages us to speed up and take risks – what should we do? Before you ditch those much-loved Metallica or Motorhead tunes, just pay close attention to your driving while you listen. 

Whatever music is your preference, there is nothing quite like a song you love and the open road. Just be safe. 

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14th of November 2019

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