We all know that making a telephone call or sending a text when holding a mobile phone can be distracting and dangerous, but what about listening to music? Could it be that listening to music might be distracting too?

So, the short answer to that question is “It depends”.

That is because, drivers can experience one or more of the following distractions while driving:

Mental – requiring the driver to concentrate on something other than their driving;

Physical – requiring the driver to actually remove their hand(s) from the steering wheel;

Visual – requiring the driver to take their eyes off the road;

So how does music affect drivers, mentally, physically and visually?

Mood – there is no doubt that music can change the way you feel. Indeed the attraction of listening to music is that it provides a mood changing experience. Furthermore, the quality of a piece of music is often decided based purely on its ability to affect our emotions. So, few would deny that music has the potential to affect the way we think and feel, and can stimulate memories and feelings from the past. This close relationship between music and moods is a potential danger. Especially when the driver is experiencing challenging driving conditions due to poor weather conditions, perhaps. It is perfectly possible that playing certain types of music,  whilst driving can engender moods and memories that divert the drivers attention, increasing the risk of road accidents;

Concentration – a loud, syncopated beat characterises so much of our contemporary music. There is an enormous amount of research that shows how fast paced music, played at a loud volume can lead to erratic and unpredictable driving.  It’s not the act of playing of music in the car which is the problem. It is the fact that music with certain characteristics such as music which has a rapid tempo and music played at high volume, can reduce their concentration levels and delay some people’s reaction times. The key takeaway from this is simply that if you play fast paced music loudly while driving you may well the exposing yourself, your passengers and other road users to excessively high levels of danger;

Relaxation – Now, while music with a fast tempo played at high volumes must be avoided while driving, there is nothing to stop a driver playing music with a low tempo, at a reasonable volume. Furthermore, there may be benefits for drivers who listen to this form of music. The psychological benefits of listening to classical music include creating a feeling of relaxation and well being. These benefits can also be found in some types of contemporary music with a slow tempo;

Operating in car music systems –  There is no doubt that as motor vehicles become more sophisticated so have their music systems. These music systems can do more than ever before, but can also be more distracting. Any activity that requires a driver to concentrate on something other than driving,  from changing the channel on the radio, to choosing which music to play, is a potentially dangerous distraction, and is something that should be avoided;

So, in brief, it does not matter whether you listen to opera, hip hop or classical music while driving. It is the tempo, and volume, of the music which matters most. The greater the tempo, and the volume, the more distracting and dangerous the music can be.