Exploring Music's Complexities

Listening to Music While Driving

Driving While Listening to Music

Kristin S. Padilla, RN, BSN, RNC


If you are like many Americans, you may find yourself spending several hours in the car per week, especially if you live in an area of heavy traffic or have a long commute to work.  Do you listen to music while you drive?  If so, what type?  Do you prefer silence or your own singing, perhaps?

Listening to music while driving is a popular activity and can be an enjoyable, relaxing experience for many.  It is important to note that the type and tempo of music you listen to in the car can have a substantial effect on your driving performance.

Warren Brodsky conducted a study using simulated driving situations with the hypothesis that fast paced music would increase heart rates, virtual traffic violations, and speeding incidence.  His study consistently showed that the faster the tempo of the music that was played, the faster the simulated drive times were along with the driver’s perceived speed.  Furthermore, the incidence of traffic violations such as running red lights, veering into other lanes of traffic, and collisions also increased as with the increasing tempo of the background music.  “Music tempo increases driving risks by competing for attentional space; the greater number of temporal events which must be processed, and the frequency of temporal changes which require larger memory storage, distract operations and optimal driving capacities” much like the well publicized distracted driving while using cell phones.

Two British professors conducted a survey of 1,780 British drivers to “discover the extent to which people listen to music while driving, what they are listening to and why, and whether there is any association with driving safety, measured by possession of four or more years ‘no-claims’ on motor insurance”.  Approximately two-thirds of the drivers surveyed reported listening to music while driving with a majority of people citing relaxation and concentration as reasons for listening.  Most drivers who listen to music while driving reported that they felt music was less distracting than conversation.  While the highest incidence of “no claims” came from those who reported they had a preference for silence, the number of claims increased as those surveyed reported listening to certain genres of music (such as rock music) with increased tempo and volume.

While there are few scientific data regarding the prevalence of music-related accidents, studies and surveys such as the two discussed here point to the need for awareness on how music could affect driving and attention both positively and negatively.


Brodsky, Warren.  “The Effects of Music Tempo on Simulated Driving Performance and Vehicular Control.”  Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour 4, Issue 4 (December 2001): 219-241.

Dibben, Nicola, and Victoria J. Williamson.  “An Exploratory Survey of In-Vehicle Music Listening.” Psychology of Music 35, no. 4 (October 2007), 571-589.

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