Most of us listen to music. In fact, 93% of Americans listen to music. Of the 25 hours or more we spend weekly listening to tunes, our favorite place to listen remains the car. About 84% of American drivers listen to the radio behind the wheel while 64% listen to CDs.

But how does listening impact our driving?

In Las Vegas and other parts of the country, distracted driving is a hot-button issue. Many states have worked to ban mobile texting and mobile device use while driving, which Nevada recently did as well. This has been music to ears (all puns intended) of many a Las Vegas car accident lawyer. Does music fall into the same category of a hazard, or is it something that can help you drive more safely? The influence of music on driving has been widely studied, but researchers are divided about the exact impact of music on driving is.

The Case for Music: Why Listening to Music While Driving Might be a Good Thing

There are many reasons why music might be good for driving. Listening to songs might be a positive influence on your driving if:

  • It soothes you and prevents you from getting angry or driving aggressively
  • Gives you a source of focus
  • It prevents you from zoning out on a repetitive commute
  • Puts you in a good mood and thus prevents dangerous driving
  • Helps you stay more focused by keeping your brain engaged

Many students, for example, use classical music to boost their brainpower and study more effectively. Since driving is in part a cognitive activity, it makes sense that brain boosting music could help our driving ability.

There are some studies to support this idea. For example, a Dutch study of drivers between the ages of 19 and 25 has suggested that driving in predictable, low-stress conditions can be made safer with music. In the study, researchers asked drivers to listen to playlists of songs the motorists had chosen. The subjects drove in simulated conditions in low-stress situations for 30 minutes. Researchers discovered drivers listening to music fared better when adjusting for the speed of the car in front of them. Drivers not listening to music fared worse for this specific task.

Dr. Simon Moore of London University has done research on the effects of music while driving, and found that music with 60-80 beats a minute is best for driving. This is because it matches resting heart rates and does not boost adrenaline levels. If drivers do indeed drive better with some music, it’s possible that choosing music with this specific tempo can be a benefit on the road.

There is also, of course, the intangible benefit of music: we all enjoy it. Listening to music feels great, and most of us enjoy listening to our favorite songs as we drive because it enhances our experience. It can make even a long, dull commute seem more exciting and fun.

The Case Against Music: The Negative Effects of Music on Driving

To some people, music seems like a significant distraction. Certainly, when drivers focus on the music rather than the road, there may be problems. Moreover, motorists can get into trouble on the road if they are adjusting their music rather than thinking about road safety.

There is even some research suggesting that music itself could cause drivers to make more mistakes. At least one 2013 study of teenage drivers found that choosing one’s own music can have a negative impact on driving safety. The study looked at 85 young drivers who had on average 7 months of driving experience. Researchers discovered that when allowed to pick their own music, drivers were more likely to make mistakes — such as tailgating or speeding—than when listening to music chosen by researchers. Teens in fact did better with music chosen by researchers—music that included light jazz, easy listening and soft rock — than with no music at all. Drivers listening to researcher’s quiet music picks demonstrated 20% less instances of driving mistakes.

Why would drivers respond better when listening to music other than their own? It’s possible that drivers chose louder and more distracting songs. Researchers also speculated that drivers listening to music they like may be more focused on the music, making the music a potential distraction. When listening to music they wouldn’t choose, they might tune out the sound a little more, leaving them freer to focus on driving.

The type of music drivers chose could also have had an impact. A small study of 8 drivers found that drivers listening to upbeat music with a loud beat were more likely to drive recklessly. Researchers concluded this may be because upbeat music has been shown to increase heartbeats and to increase adrenaline, possibly increasing the risk of speeding and potentially causing distraction.

While many people listen to loud music to stay awake, researchers have found that listening to music doesn’t help improve alertness. If you are fatigued, an energy drink, coffee or nap is more likely to leave you feeling awake and alert. Music had little or no noticeable effect.

Reducing these hazards is as simple as modifying your music choices. Choosing softer music, or music that’s not necessarily your favorite, can allow you to listen while driving safely.

Driving Safely with Music

Since the introduction of car radios in the 1930s, there has been endless debate about the safety of listening and driving. No matter what results studies show, however, it is likely that drivers will continue listening to music. If you’re one of the drivers who likes to listen to music on the road, here are a few tips to make your drive safer:

  • Turn down the volume: Researchers at Memorial University in Newfoundland found that music played loud (at 95 decibels) slowed decision-making times for drivers by 20%. Loud music can also cause you to miss important information around you—like the wail of fire engines or other cars honking.
  • Choose softer music: Research suggests that gentler music may be less distracting, so save the stronger beats for the gym.
  • Experiment: What works for one driving study might not work for you. Try driving with different music. What music did you notice the most? What music was on when you’ve made mistakes driving? That might be the music to avoid. On the other hand, which sounds did you enjoy listening to but didn’t focus on too closely? These may be an ideal soundtrack for your car.
  • Don’t use music as a crutch: If you’re fatigued, unfocused or angry, don’t rely on songs to make you feel more alert or calmer. It won’t work. Instead, focus on getting into the right frame of mind to operate a vehicle and don’t get into the car until you are in good shape to drive.
  • Program your music before you go: Trying to set up a playlist, change CDs or even change radio stations is distracting. It takes your eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel. Have a passenger adjust the music for you or program a playlist before you leave home so you don’t have to think about the music while your car is on the road.
  • Pull over if your music goes amiss: If your sound system experiences problems, your tracks start to skip or your playlist needs changing, pull over. Never try to make major changes to your sound system or figure out a problem while the car is in motion.
  • Use extra caution if you’re a new driver: Newer drivers are still learning how to balance all the specific rules and actions that make up driving. Don’t add to this by trying to listen to music, too. Focus on learning to drive before you add a potential distraction.
  • Use extra caution in more dangerous road conditions: If you’re driving in bad weather, heavy traffic, unfamiliar areas or other places where your full focus needs to be on the road, consider turning off the radio or playlist. Similarly, if you are driving somewhere where there are emergency personnel on the road directing traffic, shut off the music so you can hear any verbal instructions.
  • Do a reality check once in a while: Consider how the music is making you feel as you drive. Is your heartbeat speeding up? Are you feeling drowsy or annoyed? Check in with your emotions once in a while if you notice the music is having a distracting effect on you.
  • Avoid “high emotion” songs: Some songs provoke powerful reactions. Whether it’s a sad song that reminds us of a tragedy, or a song that brings back a lot of memories, songs that have deeper meanings for us may be harder to tune out, making them a potential distraction. Don’t take the risk. Turn off the music if you find yourself becoming emotionally distressed.
  • Drive defensively: One way to make sure music doesn’t get in your way is to drive defensively. Keep looking at the road in front of you and check your mirrors. Always think two or three moves ahead. This keeps your emotional focus on driving and ensures you don’t daydream because of music.
  • Avoid music entirely if you find it distracting: If you like listening to music just on its own and not as a background noise, you don’t want to drive with sound because you may be tempted to listen in more closely. Similarly, if you tend to daydream while you listen to music, avoid listening behind the wheel to prevent yourself from daydreaming.
  • Tune out: Avoid actively listening to the music: Let it remain in the background. If you find yourself attentively listening or following the lyrics, try driving without music or look for sounds that are less distracting.
  • Give yourself fewer options: A study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that drivers scrolling through 580 songs on an MP3 player took their eyes off the road for more than 2 seconds and more often than motorists with fewer song choices. Set up a playlist or a music station for the duration of your drive so you’re not distracted by choice.
  • Don’t rely on distraction-free technology: Many cars have technology designed to help you change music or adjust volume with supposedly less distraction, but they don’t always work. MP3 controllers designed to help drivers reduce distraction actually took motorists’ eyes off the road for longer periods. Even if you have sound controls on your wheel so you can adjust volume while you drive, keep in mind that each time you change songs, stations or volume, you are distracted because you are listening for changes. You may also be glancing down to confirm you’re getting your selections right. Don’t assume distraction-free technology will actually help you avoid distraction. Instead, focus on setting up your music before you turn on the engine, so you don’t need to make any changes.
  • Avoid singing along: Lip-syncing, dancing in your seat and otherwise physically enjoying your music may be a lot of fun, and you may enjoy seeing other drivers on the road rocking out to their own songs. Unfortunately, it is dangerous. When you’re performing, you’re focusing on the show and not on driving. In addition, you may be closing your eyes instinctively to hit a high note or may be turning your head from side to side, taking your eyes off the road. Even shaking your body or singing can affect your driving.

Simple common-sense tips can ensure you stay safer on the road, no matter what’s on your playlist. Ultimately, travel safety is the same whether you’re driving in silence or not: you need to focus on driving safety and on the road, not on any other distractions. You need to drive only when you are fit to do so, and you must hone your skills on the road to become a stronger driver. If you do all this, you will be a safe driver, whether you listen to music or not.

Liability and Music in Cars

What happens if someone is driving in a car while listening to music and causes a car accident in Las Vegas or Nevada? In large part, it depends on whether the music caused the driver to become distracted. For example, if someone was signing along to a song to such an extent that they missed a red light, they’ll likely be held liable if their actions caused damages and injuries. An experienced personal injury attorney may ask for witness testimony or may look at physical evidence (such as song lists or volume settings) to determine whether a driver was negligent.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell the cause of an accident, making it difficult to determine liability. For this reason, it’s a good idea to consult with a personal injury attorney if you have been in a car accident. Your attorney can explore all the possible reasons for you accident and can work to uncover all causes and liable parties.

Have you been injured in a car accident in Las Vegas or Nevada because another driver was distracted? Whether caused by music or other actions, if someone’s recklessness caused your injuries, you may have a claim. Contact Dallas Horton & Associates for a consultation. Our independent legal team is here for you and your best interests. Contact us today for a free consultation.