Is the music you’re listening to causing your bad driving?

17th July 2019

Can what music you listen to dictate whether you’re a good or bad driver? That is exactly what IAM Roadsmart and motor magazine Auto Express set to find out with the help of consumer reporter, Tristian Shale-Hester.

Using a high-tech racing simulator, it was Tristian’s task to undertake two simulated precision laps of the Grand Prix track at the Red Bull Ring in Austria while listening to four different music genres at full volume.

  • Heavy metal - ‘(sic)’, by Slipknot
  • Classical - ‘Goldberg Variations’ by Johann Sebastian Bach
  • Pop - ‘Shake It Off’, by Taylor Swift
  • Hip hop - ‘HUMBLE’ by Kendrick Lamar

The test involved fast acceleration, challenging corners, a 50 mph speed-limited zone, and a controlled stop on the finish line. To start, Tristian completed a control lap with no music, he finished the two laps in four minutes and 34 seconds.

Heavy metal - ‘(sic)’ by Slipknot

The results showed that the heavier the music playing, the more dangerous the driving, with the Slipknot track reducing Tristian’s ability to get around the track smoothly. It took him an additional 14 seconds to complete the laps and he admitted the song made it harder to concentrate.

Classical - ‘Goldberg Variations’ by Johann Sebastian Bach

Whilst many people may not be shocked with the results of the heavy metal, classical music fans may be surprised to hear that their favourite genre led Tristian to be overly relaxed and too slow. Whilst his driving was better compared to when he was listening to Slipknot, his speed dropped to 35 mph in a 50 mph zone without him even realising. He completed the laps 12 seconds slower than the control laps.

Pop - ‘Shake It Off’ by Taylor Swift

Tristian’s driving was the best when listening to the pop song ‘Shake It Off’, appearing to provide just the right mood for controlled driving. He completed the laps just two seconds slower than the control laps and according to IAM Roadsmart expert Tim Shallcross, it was on this song that Tristian’s laps were ‘smoothest in terms of speed consistency.’

Hip hop - ‘HUMBLE’ by Kendrick Lamar

The last genre Tristian drove to was hip hop. Whilst the Kendrick Lamar track gave him the closest time to his control laps, being just one second slower, he overshot the finish line by a dangerous 60-70ft (approximately four car lengths).

The tempo of the music you listen to plays a huge part in safe driving. Music that is noisy and upbeat increases your heart rate, a deadly mix when it comes to driving. The fast beats increase excitement and can lead to a person’s concentration shifting from the road to the music. Psychologist Dr Simon Moore advises “The optimum tempo of a song for safe driving should mimic the human heartbeat at around 60 to 80 beats per minute”.

We've listened to music whilst driving for decades, so it’s understandable we've never given a thought to just how much of a distraction it is. If you do feel the music you are listening to causes a distraction and is affecting your driving abilities, find an alternative that enables you to drive safely.

The volume of your music can also impact concentration, so ensure you're playing your music at a suitable level. We seem to, at least unconsciously, be aware of how volume affects our focus as many of us will turn down the volume or switch off the radio when we are in an area we are not familiar with and are trying to find an address. Playing music at an acceptable sound level will also ensure you hear any emergency vehicles.

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