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How certain music affects your driving ability

Songs with a tempo of between 60 and 80 beats per minute are optimal for driving which means ACDC and Guns ‘n Roses are out…

There’s nothing better than cruising along your favourite driving route, listening to your favourite tunes. Music also helps combat the mundane experience of sitting in bumper to bumper traffic! But did you know according to studies, your choice of music could have an affect on your driving abilities?

Songs with a tempo of between 60 and 80 beats per minute are optimal for driving which means ACDC and Guns ‘n Roses are out, and Taylor Swift or Ed Sheeran are recommended.

“Aside from the distraction caused by scrolling through playlists, the music you listen to can have a profound effect on your mood, which can affect your driving. The harder and louder, the more likely you might be to speed, be aggressive or become distracted,” says Maanda Tshifularo, Head of Dialdirect.

According to a study conducted at the Ear Institute of University College London, one’s eyes and ears need to be focused on the same thing for optimal processing and reaction time. Splitting your attention between listening to the radio and paying attention to the traffic around you, increases your risk of being in an accident.

Research titled “Effects of noise and music on human and task performance: A systematic review” from the Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, found that music can reduce stress and mild aggression in frustrating situations like bumper-to-bumper traffic, but may reduce your ability to manoeuvre to avoid other vehicles. It concluded that a moderate volume level of music is optimal for driving, whilst loud music or noise impairs human performance.

A research team led by Dr. Simon Moore, a psychologist from London Metropolitan University, found that music that is upbeat and noisy increases your heart rate – causing excitement and leading motorists to focus more on the music than on the road. Dr. Moore suggests that songs with a tempo of between 60 and 80 beats per minute are optimal for driving, as this tempo closely mimics people’s average resting heart rate.

“As a guideline, AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’ hits 133 bpm, Taylor Swift’s ‘Style’ hits the 96 bpm mark, Beyoncé’s ‘Halo’ comes in at 80 bpm, while Ed Sheeran’s ‘Perfect’ clocks up 64 bpm,” says Tshifularo.

The study also found that listening to music that you don’t like could cause stress and distraction.

Dialdirect offers the following tips for driving right, whilst enjoying good music:

  • Eye of the tiger: Keep your eyes on the road at all times. If you spend just three seconds adjusting your radio or looking at your playlist whilst driving at 100 km/h, you will cover the length of a rugby field without your eyes on the road.
  • Turn down for what? Avoid blasting music at high volume as this not only significantly impairs your ability to focus on driving, but also drowns out all-important sound cues of what is happening in traffic around you.
  • Put your records on: Choose a playlist or radio station that plays the music you like and makes you feel good and relaxed.
  • In the mood: Avoid getting behind the wheel when you are angry or frustrated and remember the road is no place to vent or settle personal scores.
  • Under pressure: When traffic or a stressful work day is getting you down, make a conscious shift to more easy-listening music that appeals to your taste.
  • The lion sleeps tonight: Driving tired is never a good idea, but when you need to buy an extra couple of minutes to get home or to a rest stop, steer clear of music that has a tempo of below 60 beats per minute. On the other hand, when you are all charged up and ready to party, don’t listen to high-paced music behind the wheel.
  • Sound of silence: A bit of quiet time behind the wheel with minimal noise could be just the way to calm your mood or lift your spirits on a difficult day. Tune out when you need to.

Tshifularo concludes, “Music can help you stay focused on long road trips and keep you from raging about the stagnant traffic in front of you. However, if you find your pulse starting to race, your foot getting heavier on the accelerator or your brain more focused on a stellar karaoke-solo, it’s best to take a step back. Despite your best efforts, it could still happen that ‘Greased lightning’ turns into ‘Crash and burn’ in a matter of seconds, so it’s wise to make sure that your car, and music accessories, are adequately insured.”

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