In Car Music A Growing Distraction for Drivers

Background music is a risk factor for distraction among young drivers, a study suggests.

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel said their findings showed in car listening results in ‘driver miscalculations, inaccuracy, driver error, traffics violations and driver aggressiveness.

The study compared the effects of in car background music among young inexperienced drivers. Firstly it considered effects without music, then with pre-selected alternative music and finally with music preferred by the participant.

The participants were young-novice drivers with an average age of 17 and a half years old holding a valid driver’s licence for seven months.

The researchers choose the same route for all participants and invited experienced instructors to determine the changes in driving behaviour according to the different music genres and conditions.

It was found that the ‘six most prominent driver deficient driving behaviours were: speeding, maintaining attention, keeping the appropriate following distance, lane use, over-taking vehicles and one handed driving.’

The striking difference was that ‘these deficiencies and violations were significantly decreased for trips with an alternative music background – to even lower levels than when driving without music.’

Dr J.J. Arnett from the University of Maryland recognised in the report that ‘loud music is a distraction that can increase the crash risk four-fold.’ Rapid music leads to an increase in acceleration, cruising speeds and traffic violations. As a group young drivers demonstrate significantly more at risk driving behaviours with up-tempo music.

The study shows there is a significantly elevated positive mood states and enjoyment in trips with driver preferred music and a greater number of deficiencies as a result.

Warren Brodsky and Zack Slor who led the research concluded that their study shows that ‘the time is ripe to raise awareness on the effects of in car listening. Drivers must be educated in choosing music more wisely’.

Peter Rodger, head of driving standards and chief examiner at IAM said that ‘You cannot force drivers to listen to the music you want – they will listen to what they choose, in modern cars where they have total control of the media in use.

‘I think that there are probably more urgent and compelling things to concentrate on – although that doesn’t mean we dismiss this as an issue – just that there are probably bigger, more urgent ones.

‘The IAM recognises the danger of distraction, and recognises that in car music can distract – though it does not follow that it always does so.  I seem to recall that either this, or possibly another piece of research (albeit possibly not academic in origin) identified that differing styles of music can make a difference. I don’t mean indie or jazz, but fast or slow.’

Music isn’t a sole determining factor in car accidents among young people. Two additional factors according to the report include late night driving and teenage passengers.

Road Safety Scotland reported that between 10% and 30% of all accidents contain driver distraction as a contributory factor. One third of which are due to external vehicle distraction. 

However the study does show the alarming effects of music on young drivers with 32% of participants receiving a verbal warning or command for action and 20% required a steering or breaking manoeuvre to prevent an imminent accident.

At a conference on the 24th of October Chief Constable Sir Stephen House outlined road safety as one of the top priorities across local communities.

A COSLA spokesperson said ‘young drivers should be a priority. They are represented in the accident statistics and while the many and diverse education campaigns undoubtedly help more needs to be done.’

The study was published in June in the Accident Analysis and Prevention Journal.

Brodsky and Slor recognise that cars are here to stay, and that in car listening will forever be a part of the driving experience.


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