Should you listen to music while driving?

9 Dec 15

For many of us, driving is directly related to music. Singing along to the radio or listening to our favourite guilty pleasure albums while driving to work is an integral part of the day.

But does listening to music impede or improve our concentration when we're driving? In 2013, several studies were conducted to answer this question. They tested the effects of listening to music on different types of drivers and concluded rather ambiguously that sometimes music is helpful, and at other times it isn't. 

Young drivers

One study focussed particularly on young, inexperienced drivers and whether or not music had a part to play on the mistakes they made while driving1. The study, published in the Accident Analysis and Prevention journal, had three test conditions: no music, the driver's music preference or the researcher's choice of music, with the latter designed to increase cognitive function. 

The study found that when listening to their preferred music, predominately techno or dance, young drivers were more likely to make mistakes or drive aggressively1. But funnily enough, the music the researchers chose proved to be better than no music at all and indeed, better than the drivers' preferences1

Experienced drivers

However, a study from the University of Groningen showed that listening to music increased performance on the road2. This time though, the study examined drivers aged between 25 and 35 years, significantly different from the last study in which participants were 17 years old on average. 

This study had participants perform tedious driving tasks, such as following another car for 30 minutes or driving in heavy traffic. Drivers were also asked to attempt difficult parking manoeuvres. Unsurprisingly, music made these tasks more enjoyable, which encouraged driver engagement2

Furthermore, the study found that music, even loud music, didn't hinder a driver's ability to drive well in difficult situations. In these scenarios, drivers were able to tune out music and focus completely on their task, often performing better than the control group without music did2

But here's the clincher: in this study, drivers were allowed to choose the music they listened to, the researcher reasoning that people don't listen to music they don't like2. This suggests that whether or not music affects driving performance has more to do with the driver.  

Is it really the music? 

It makes sense that less experienced drivers make more mistakes, so these findings aren't exactly surprising. This said, both groups performed better with at least some music than they did without. 

It would seem then that in most cases, music can help while driving. But as always, maintaining careful concentration as you drive will get you further (and keep you safer) than the radio or a CD. A well-maintained car is also invaluable. Knowing your car's background with a CarHistory report will let you know what your car may need, meaning you'll drive better and safer on the road. 

1Accident Analysis & Prevention, Background music as a risk factor for distraction among young novice drivers. Accessed October, 2015. 

2University of Groningen, Listening to music while driving has very little effect on driving performance, study suggests. Accessed October, 2015.