by Mark Simpson
There are few fully-clothed pleasures greater than the solitary, blissful one of driving to one’s favourite music.
Pop on a beloved tune in the car and the world becomes a movie to your soundtrack, choreographed by your gear changes and pedal work, conducted by your talented hands on the wheel. Everything seems right and revvy in the world. Because, for once, just once, you literally set the tempo of life. You are DJ to the world.
Sometimes, when just the right track is playing and just the right stretch of road is unspooling before you, it even seems like the whole point of your existence and indeed the entire arc of human civilization has been to make it possible for you to sing along badly to ‘Paradise City’ by Guns N’ Roses at the National Speed Limit.
But watch out! There’s something in the road ahead! My god! It looks like a middle-aged academic! And he’s flagging you down!
So he can criticise your music collection.
“The car is the only place in the world you can die just because you’re listening to the wrong kind of music,” says Warren Brodsky, Director of Music Psychology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel (who also perhaps deserves an honorary chair in the Drama Dept.) Mr Brodsky recently published the first textbook on how music can affect driving habits, “Driving with Music: Cognitive-Behavioural Implications” (Ashgate Publishing Company).
Essentially his argument is that the music you like is the music that will kill you. “Whether it’s Beethoven, Basie or Bieber is irrelevant,” the professor says. “Ideally drivers should choose tunes that do not trigger distracting thoughts, memories, emotions, or hand drumming along to the beat while driving.” In other words, music that evokes a response from you is the wrong kind of music to listen to in the car.
He writes: “…the optimal music for drivers to listen to are pieces with a moderate level of emotional energy (as intense emotional qualities of either positive or negative valence causes unwanted maladaptive driver behaviours)”.
A study he conducted with 85 drivers aged 18 found that 98% of them made driving errors (such as speeding and tailgating) when listening to music. Worryingly, however, 92% of them made mistakes when listening to no music at all. When listening to Mr Brodsky’s own soothing playlist of ‘safe music’ only 77% made a driving error. So ‘safe’ music seems to be better than no music.
What was ‘safe music’? Apparently, a blend of easy-listening, soft rock, and light jazz instrumental and vocal. Mr Brodsky should obviously be a Melody FM DJ.
Previous studies have suggested that ‘boom cars’ in particular and loud music in general decreases a driver’s ability to react to sudden movements and make decisions – reaction times diminished by up to 20 per cent in a Canadian study when a person was subjected to loud volume. (The effects of flashing LED dashboard lights and furry dice was not measured.)
Another, not terribly scientific study conducted by Confused.com used a driving app called MotorMark to monitor the driving habits of eight drivers over 500 miles. It concluded that listening to hip-hop and heavy metal music produced high risk driving habits, such as speeding, fast acceleration and last-minute breaking.
The most ‘dangerous’ songs included Johnny Cash’s ‘Get Rhythm’, Snoop Dog & Wiz Khalifa’s ‘Young, Wild and Free’ and… Guns N’ Roses ‘Paradise City’.
The ‘safest’ included Elton John’s ‘Tiny Dancer’, Jason Mraz ‘I’m Yours’ and Coldplay’s ‘The Scientist’. Though some might be forgiven for wondering what the point of living was if it meant having to listen to Coldplay.
Face facts, it’s probably only a matter of time before we’re banned from playing music we actually like in our cars – or have to pay a higher insurance premium not to listen to droning tones selected by the academic DJ, Mr Brodsky.
Personally, I think they should ban passengers first. They’re a bad enough distraction in your own car, but even worse in other people’s. Whenever you’re being held up by someone’s dawdling it’s always a car with two heads bobbing away above the front seats as they have a good old natter – and tut about the really impatient man in the car behind them listening to Guns N’ Roses. Very loudly.
Originally appeared on LeasePlan blog