How listening to music affects your driving ability

By Mitch Rice

After a gruesome day at your workplace, nothing feels more rewarding than getting into your car at the end of the day and cruising straight home. On the way, playing some music to unwind yourself seems to be the best idea to de-stress. Everyone has their favorite Spotify or iTunes playlist saved up on their car’s infotainment interface.

However, does music always contribute to a peaceful drive or is there something hidden behind the tunes that could adversely affect the way you drive? In this article, we study the positive and negative impacts of playing music while your hands are full on the steering wheel. So the next time you drive your Chevy Malibu, you can always make an informed decision on what kind of music should be safe to play.

Does music really affect your driving etiquette?

The answer is yes, music does play a major part behind the scenes while you drive your car. A new study by researchers at London Metropolitan University proves that music and driving behavior are co-related. As a part of the research, 8 drivers were included. All of them were asked to drive 500 miles in total, with each driver made to listen to different playlists based on music type. During the course of their trips, every aspect was measured by the researchers including their heart rates, driving skills, and behavioral changes over time.

The researchers came to the conclusion that the best tunes to be played while driving are the ones that match the rhythm of the human heartbeat. As long as your heart rate stays calm while driving, everything should be good to go. Generally, songs in the range of 60-80 beats per minute are inside the safe zone. These included some songs by Justin Timberlake, Coldplay, Elton John, and Radiohead.

On the contrary, the researchers found out that the most dangerous tunes to play while driving were those that were of the noisy type. Such tunes reportedly raise the heart rate past the natural permitted levels, thus placing the driver at more risk of causing an accident. While noisy and high-tempo music may help to hype up your mood, this type of music often takes your attention away from the road. Hype music entices your mind to push harder on the accelerator pedal in order to match the high tempo of the song.

The impact of different genres of music was recorded to be different for both men and women, which was another interesting phenomenon discovered by this study. While there may be no denial of the ill effects of hip-hop on your driving behavior, studies showed that such music had a far more adverse effect on women.

Women listening to hip hop drove more recklessly, pushing the brake and accelerator pedal more aggressively than men who listened to the same genre. The speed catalyst music also differed for different genders. While women were tempted to speed faster listening to dance music, for men heavy metal was the driving force behind their high speeds.

How music affects your brain and emotions

Music has a lingering effect on your mind, with each genre of music hitting different areas of your brain. When you listen to happy music, an outsider can almost notice a subtle expression on your face that indicates you are happy inside. Similarly, sad music will paint a different expression on your face. Most people can feel the emotions inside a musical piece without actually having to express them, enabling them to enjoy the music more. This explains why even the brightest of personalities can sometimes connect themselves to sad music.

Multiple studies have also shown that music is a source of endless creativity. Certain ambient music can trigger the creativity current inside your brain, by stimulating short-term memory receptors. This fact highlights that music, especially the soothing instrumental types can calm your mind, and leave you feeling more creative and productive once the music ends. With this being said, some types of music only serve as a distraction, hampering your ability to think rationally and act quickly.

The risks of playing music while driving

While there is certain ‘safe’ music that is approved by researchers to play while driving, most of your personal music doesn’t fall into the safe zone. Most teens listen to the dance/techno genre, which is particularly known to induce aggressive driving patterns in teenagers. Old-gen music isn’t safe either, as most of the classical music that your parents might listen to can induce erratic driving behavior. Other potential hazards while listening to music while driving are:

  • Physical distractions: When you listen to music, most of the time you aren’t welcome to listen to a song on repeat. Instead, you have already pre-selected a song in your mind and you can’t wait to turn on the volume knob or switch your song through the vehicle touchscreen or the Spotify app on your smartphone. With this, you have already distracted yourself from having full control of your steering wheel.
  • Mental distractions: If your favorite song is on, humming the lyrics on your mind or lips is an absolute prerequisite. However, this takes your mind off the road and can reduce your reaction times by almost 20 percent.
  • No sense of your outside environment: While playing loud music, you have no sense of any activities going on outside. You may fail to hear important sounds like an ambulance or police siren.

Safest songs to play while driving:

Playing music while driving is necessary to keep your mood uplifted and it can be hard to replace it with anything else as a driving pastime. However, there is nothing to fret about, as we present you a list of some songs that are deemed ‘safe for driving’:

  • Justin Timberlake – “Cry Me a River”
  • Radiohead – “Karma Police”
  • Elton John – “Tiny Dancer”
  • Juice WRLD – “Lucid Dreams”
  • The Man – “Feel It Still”
  • Drake – “God’s Plan”
  • Bon Iver – “Skinny Love”
  • Coldplay – “The Scientist”
  • Travie McCoy feat. Bruno Mars – “Billionaire”
  • XXXTENTACION – “SAD!”
  • Anne-Marie – “2002”
  • Eminem Feat. Ed Sheeran – “River”
  • Benny Blanco with Halsey & Khalid – “Eastside”
  • S Club 7 – “Never Had A Dream Come True”

Worst songs to play while driving:

While these songs may be bangers in their own sense, their speedy tempo and high-intensity energy may encourage you to drive more recklessly:

  • Kanye West – “Heartless”
  • The Black Eyes Peas – “Hey Mama”
  • 5 Seconds of Summer- “Youngblood”
  • Calvin Harris with Dua Lipa – “One Kiss”
  • I.A – “Paper Planes”
  • Nickelback – “How You Remind Me”
  • Guns N’ Roses – “Paradise City”
  • Hugh Jackman – “The Greatest Show”
  • Sigala – “Lullaby”
  • Tiesto – “Jackie Chan”