New Study Focuses Attention on a Less Known Form of Distracted Driving by Teens


December 17, 2013

Parents that complain about their kids' music are pretty much a constant whether the music was Elvis during the fifties, disco during the seventies or rap music today. While the artistic merit of music may be a matter of individual taste and preference, parents may have a legitimate basis to object to kids listening to the pounding base of rap music or to the penetrating intensity of heavy metal music when kids borrow the family car. A new study published in Accident Analysis and Prevention suggests that teens who listen to their preferred type of music when operating a motor vehicle are more likely to commit miscalculations and driving errors.

The study conducted by researchers at Ben-Gurion University involved 85 novice teen drivers who also were accompanied in the vehicle by a driving instructor. Each study participant navigated six forty minute driving courses. The motorists navigated two course while listening to music of their choice, two courses while listening to background music designed to promote safe driving, and two trips with the car stereo turned off.

When the inexperienced teen drivers were driving with their choice of music playing, 98 percent of the driver exhibited an average of three unsafe driving practices in a minimum of one of their two trips. Almost a third of the teen drivers listening to their preferred type of music engaged in a driving mistake that elicited a command for action or verbal warning from the instructor. One in five of the driver listening to their own choice of music actually needed the instructor to intervene with an assisted braking or steering maneuver to avoid an imminent collision. The researchers speculate that drivers are not aware that when they become absorbed in a song, they become more distracted as they engage in "active music listening," which constitutes a significant mental distraction.

Many of the driver errors were of the type likely to result in a car accident, including tailgating, unsafe passing, careless lane switching, speeding, aggressive driving and distracted driving. Inexperienced male teen drivers were especially likely to make driving errors when listening to their preferred drivers than females who were less inclined to exhibit aggressive driving practices.

While the correlation between the mental distraction of listening to music and driving was not necessarily unexpected, an interesting finding in the study is that certain types of music might actually encourage safer driving. While 92 percent of the drivers who did not have any music playing when they were driving exhibited some form of driving error, those listening to specific types of alternative music in the background exhibited twenty percent fewer driving mistakes.

Although most drivers recognize the distracted driving hazards associated with using a cell phone, fewer consider the risk of listening to music on a car stereo. This study suggest that teen drivers may face serious risks of being involved in a collision when they try to focus on their driving and cope with mental distractions like listening to the radio. This is particularly true if the listener finds the music particularly engaging.

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Category: Auto Accidents

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