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Summary
  • Listening to music while driving helps reduce stress, enhance mood, and bring back happy memories.
  • However, it can also make you irritable, lower awareness, and increase fatigue. Some songs can also disrupt your focus and make you more reckless on the road.
  • Some tips to safely listen to music while driving include choosing the music you’re listening to carefully and not setting the volume too high.

People rarely drive in silence. Many drivers turn on the radio to enjoy the latest tunes or prepare playlists of their favorite songs to sing along to, especially on long drives.

If you also enjoy listening to music while behind the wheel, you know it’s a great way to combat boredom — but beware.  While some songs can energize and boost your mood, others can make it hard to concentrate on driving.

The Positive Effects of Music for Drivers

Let’s start by exploring the bright side of music. Here are some of the benefits of listening to music while driving:

Stress Reduction

Getting stuck in traffic is always stressful. Even if you’re not in a hurry, spending a long time waiting for the light to go green and navigating congested roads can get frustrating.

Listening to music can help you stay calm, especially if you tune into soothing tunes. Soft rock and light jazz are good options because they’re catchy yet relaxing. They can also improve your driving focus.

Enhanced Mood

Music is uplifting. Various researchers have proven that it can make people happy and reduce their anxiety. Fast tempos can energize, releasing feel-good hormones (dopamine) and activating the brain’s pleasure system.

man driving while listening to music
Music is uplifting. Various researchers have proven that it can make people happy and reduce their anxiety.

That’s not to say that slow and somber songs can’t do the same. Some studies proved that sad music brings comfort and pleasure to many listeners. Whether you need a pick-me-up or just want to have fun while driving, you can’t go wrong with listening to music.

Positive Memories and Associations

Music can remind us of happy places, people, and emotions. This can create a more pleasant driving experience and affect your overall perception of the trip. You just have to listen to music that makes you happy.

The Downsides of Listening to Music While Driving

While music can help you stay calm and happy while you drive, it can also distract you and affect your mood negatively. Let’s look at some of the drawbacks of listening to music while driving:

Lack of Focus

Music can reduce driving focus, especially for inexperienced drivers like teens. According to a study, 98% of teens who listened to their choice music had more driving errors compared to those who didn’t listen to music and those who listened to safe soundtracks like soft rock or jazz.

Volume and music choice contributed to this figure. Music that exceeds 120 to 130 decibels can be distracting for inexperienced drivers, and it doesn’t help that most teens listen to disruptive, fast-paced music.

Note that loud and distracting music can distract people of all ages. The risk is just higher for teens and other inexperienced drivers.

Aggressive Driving

Some songs can make people more prone to aggressive driving. Fast-tempo music can make some drivers more reckless and impulsive on the road. Researchers observed such behavior in drivers who listened to songs that exceeded 120 beats per minute.

Irritability

Irritability and anxiety can worsen in noisy environments, like vehicles with music blasting from their speakers. If the driver isn’t used to loud music, it can stress them out worse, particularly in traffic-congested situations.

Reduced Awareness

As a driver, you need to hear what’s around you. Loud music can make it difficult to hear horns and emergency vehicle sirens. Some studies also showed that loud music can slow a driver’s reaction to stimuli, making it harder to avoid collisions.

Increased Fatigue

Slow-tempo songs and tracks are calming, and if you listen to them for long periods, it can make you feel fatigued and drowsy.

Interestingly, high-tempo music can also increase fatigue. Upbeat sounds can increase alertness in short-term drives, but they can also cause severe tiredness if you listen to them for too long due to overstimulation and excitement.

What Songs Can Distract Drivers While On the Road?

According to a study conducted by PassMeFast, the most distracting songs are those that have high amounts of energy and emotions but have low danceability scores.

The study used Spotify data to analyze the 20 most popular driving playlists and scored them based on three categories: energy, danceability, and valence (how emotionally charged a song is). Here are some of the most distracting songs according to their research:

  1. Hey Ya by Outkast
  2. Empire State of Mind by Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys
  3. Take on Me by a-ha
  4. Feel So Close – Radio Edit by Calvin Harris
  5. You Give Love a Bad Name by Bon Jovi

What Are Considered Safe Soundtracks?

According to Dr. Simon Moore of London University, the ideal driving music matches a person’s resting heart rate (60-80 bpm). At this rate, the music won’t affect a driver’s adrenaline while on the road.

Researchers suggest listening to songs with a low beat and soothing effect. However, this is subjective because what soothes one person can be distracting to another.

In general, it’s recommended to stick to soft rock or jazz. You can also just listen to talk radio as your “background music” while you’re driving. 

Other Tips to Safely Listen to Music While Driving

Follow these tips to maximize the benefits of listening to music while driving without compromising your safety:

Set Up Your Playlist Before the Trip

It’s a good idea to have your playlist ready before you begin your trip. Avoid changing tracks or looking for your preferred playlist while the vehicle is already in motion. This can disrupt your focus while you’re driving.

Make Sure Your Phone or Music Player Is Securely Mounted

If you’re using your phone or any music player to connect to your ride’s entertainment system, make sure that it’s securely mounted somewhere on your dashboard. Your phone can become a dangerous projectile during abrupt stops or sharp turns.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Don’t let the music distract you — make driving your priority. Check your side mirrors and pay attention to pedestrians and other vehicles on the road. Save belting out the lyrics to the song on air when the stop light is red.

The Bottomline

The influence of music on driving can be complex. Some songs can enhance your mood and sharpen your focus, while others can distract you while you’re driving.

It’s important to find a balance between enjoying music and ensuring your safety while on the road. Consider the type of music you’re listening to and don’t set the volume too high.

About The Authors
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The CarParts.com Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by CarParts.com's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Reviewed By Automotive Features Reviewer at CarParts.com

Lisa Conant grew up in Canada around a solid contingency of gear heads and DIY motor enthusiasts. She is an eclectic writer with a varied repertoire in the automotive industry, including research pieces with a focus on daily drivers and recreational vehicles. Lisa has written for Car Bibles and The Drive.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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