Music and Your Brain: A Deadly Lullaby of Distracted Driving

Once the first car radio was rolled out by Gavin Corporation (Motorola) in 1930, there was no turning back. Since then, we’ve been accompanied on our drives by music from retractable record players, 8-track and cassette players, satellite radio, MP3 players, and iPODs. Technology doesn’t come without its downside, though. Auto accidents caused by distracted drivers injured an estimated 421,000 people in 2012, and listening to music while driving was a factor in many of those accidents.

It’s estimated that 9 people die every day as a result of distracted driving, which can include anything from changing the song on the radio to talking to a passenger, or placing a call or text. More than 3,300 people died in 2011 as a result of distracted driving, up from 3,267 in 2010. But, just how much of an impact does listening to music (a seemingly innocuous task) have on a person’s level of awareness while driving? The answer may be surprising.


University Study Results

A study of novice drivers conducted by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev found that the type of music the driver listens to, as well as the volume at which it is played, has a significant impact on the driver’s ability to safely navigate. The study showed that, when the drivers were listening to their own choice of music at a high volume, they were much more distracted than when listening to different music at a lower volume.

Nearly 98% of those tested exhibited what was classified as at least “three deficient driving behaviors” (speeding, one-handed driving, tailgating), almost one-third of the drivers were so distracted that it necessitated a quick verbal command to get them back on track, and 20 percent of the drivers required immediate steering or braking assistance to avoid a collision. Perhaps not surprisingly, when the drivers were listening to music selected by the researchers (slower, soft rock, light jazz), their distraction level decreased, they drove more slowly, and there were 20 percent fewer driving errors.


At Monash University in Australia, a study was done to gauge the impact of driving while listening to an iPod or similar music device, and the results were not surprising. The study suggested that scrolling for song choices on the iPod’s touchscreen significantly distracted the driver, and negatively affected a number of driving measures. Participants were 111% more likely to veer from their lanes, it was more difficult for them to maintain a safe distance between other vehicles, and the driver’s eyes were diverted from the road an average of 2.5 times longer than those who were not distracted by a music device.

Researchers at London Metropolitan University studied the results of an experiment conducted by, a UK insurance comparison website. They discovered that music that most closely mimics the resting rate of the human heartbeat (60 – 80 beats per minute) was the best music to listen to while driving. Aggressive, fast-paced music that people tend to consider as ‘good driving music’ (heavy metal, hard rock, some hip hop) led to faster, more distracted driving, and caused drivers to pay more attention to the music than the road.


The type of music we listen to in our cars can make a difference in our driving style, as well as our level of distraction. The source of the music makes a difference, too. When we use portable music devices, such as iPods and MP3 players, distraction levels greatly increase, which means that auto accidents become more likely. The bottom line is that it’s perfectly fine to listen to music while we’re driving. Just maintain a reasonable volume, save the hardcore music styles for the gym, and don’t allow yourself to get distracted by the device itself.




Jacob Masters

Jacob Masters is a freelance writer and author who has worked in the health industry for over a decade. His goal in life is to increase the internet knowledge base one article at a time. He also likes to push the boundaries through his city wide evening excursions as a guerilla gardener.
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