For Teens, Favorite Tunes May Impair Driving08/30/13
FRIDAY, Aug. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Music may soothe the savage
beast, but a new study argues that novice teenage drivers who rock
out to a playlist of favorite tunes may end up with impaired motor
Active listening -- humming along with, tapping out the beat of
or otherwise getting absorbed by tracks youthful drivers know and
like -- appears to distract them from the rules of the road,
The result is an increase in error-prone behaviors, such as
speeding, tailgating and one-handed steering, as well as aggressive
and distracted lane-switching and passing.
On the other hand, the Israeli investigators said, certain types
of music can actually promote safe teen driving, when comprised of
less familiar, calming compositions.
"The car is the only place -- the only audio-related acoustic environment -- [in which] listening to music can be fatal," said study co-author Warren Brodsky, director of music science research in the department of the arts at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva, Israel.
"So the message has to be learn to choose music more appropriately," Brodsky said. "And if or when circumstances are more risky -- such as being tired, at night time, in highly congested traffic, after party duress, or [when a driver is] a bit tipsy or very emotional -- there might be music that could increase safety and lower risk factors for the ... ride home."
Brodsky joined his BGU colleague Zack Slor to discuss their
research, funded by the Israel National Road Safety Authority, in
the October issue of the journal
Accident Analysis and Prevention.
The study comes on the heels of recent Dutch research, in which
Ayca Berfu Unal, of the University of Groningen, found that the
driving abilities of young people were not negatively impacted by
listening to music of their choosing. That research, however, was a
conducted using a virtual road simulation test and involved
university students between the ages of 19 and 25 with an average
of two and a half years of driving experience.
By contrast, Brodsky and Slor focused on the real-world road
experience of 85 new Israeli drivers between the ages of 17 and 18,
all of whom had procured their licenses an average of only seven
months prior to the study launch. Roughly 60 percent were male.
None of the participants had been to traffic court, and only 8
percent had ever been involved in a collision.
Music, the authors said, was a near-ubiquitous feature of the
driving experience, with 86 percent saying they listened to music
all the time when behind the wheel. Pretty much all (99 percent)
described that music as "moderately fast or very fast," and nearly
as many (94 percent) said they played it on the loud end of the
All the teens were paired with one of two expert driving
instructors, with whom they embarked on a series of six challenging
40-minute, 25-mile road trips, under three different conditions:
two trips while playing their own music, two trips while playing
author-supplied music and two trips with no music.
The participants' preferred music included an average of 12
songs taken from each driver's personal collection. About
two-thirds were international tracks, while a third were Israeli
By contrast, the 30-minute "alternate" music collection
(selected by Brodsky and Israeli composer Micha Kisner) included
eight tracks of unfamiliar non-vocal tunes from the genres of easy
listening, soft rock or light jazz, with a focus on lush harmonies
and relatively modest rhythms, tempos, timbres, voice textures and
In-vehicle data-recording devices and driving instructor
observations revealed that while listening to their preferred
music, 98 percent of the teens displayed (on at least one of the
two trips) three or more driving deficiencies. Deficiencies
included driving aggressively or inaccurately, miscalculating and
committing a traffic violation.
Nearly one-third of the preferred trips required an instructor
to yell out a sudden verbal warning or command, while one-fifth
needed their assistance to steer or brake in order to prevent an
On the no-music trips 92 percent of the teens also made similar
The team found, however, that when teens drove with the calming
alternate soundtrack in the background their deficient driving
behaviors fell by 20 percent.
But will teen drivers turn down the volume on music they like?
Brodsky pointed to the slow but steady acceptance of seatbelts and
condoms, suggesting that this too "is an issue of awareness and
"The car is not a dance floor, nor a karaoke bar, a sports facility or exercise class," he said, adding that "the music chosen to listen to should be more adaptive to the environment."
Although the U.S. National Highway and Transportation Safety
Administration deems "adjusting a radio, CD player or MP3 player"
to be a distraction that "could divert a person's attention away
from the primary task of driving," it has not specifically studied
how music itself might distract drivers.
The NHTSA, however, did point out that in 2011 more than 390,000
Americans were involved in a crash with a distracted driver, and
that the under-20 set is the age group with the largest proportion
of distracted drivers.
For more on distracted driving concerns, visit the
Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
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