Soft music without lyrics put drivers in the best mindset for urban driving, while loud, lyrical music over-stimulated drivers
More than a fifth of UK motorists may not be fully concentrating on driving due to their musical preferences
In partnership with Brunel University London, Coventry University and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Direct Line Motor Insurance reveals the types of music that have a direct impact on driving performance
New research from Direct Line Motor Insurance reveals the influence different types of music can have on driver safety. In partnership with an academic study1 from Brunel University London, Coventry University and the Economic and Social Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, Direct Line can reveal the potential influence factors such as volume and lyrics can have on a driver's ability to focus effectively when in towns and cities.
Music that has the most beneficial impact on a driver's mental state is typically soft, with a slow-to-moderate tempo, and without lyrics, the research found. When listening to loud music (75 decibels - the equivalent of an alarm clock), drivers were 37 per cent more mentally stimulated, which can have a negative impact on more demanding urban driving, compared with listening to loud music (60 decibels - the equivalent of normal conversation) with lyrics.
Volume plays a significant role in determining a motorist's mindset. The study found that drivers listening to soft, instrumental music reported 14 per cent lower mental arousal, which can optimise focus for urban driving, than those listening to loud instrumental music, and 21 per cent lower than when listening to soft, lyrical music.
These findings are important, as further research2 from Direct Line found that four-fifths of motorists (80 per cent) - some 30 million people - often listen to music when driving, while nearly half (48 per cent), or 18 million people, listen exclusively to music behind the wheel.
While simple lyrics and simple compositions (23 per cent) and slow-tempo music (nine per cent) are relatively popular, loud music (17 per cent), and complex lyrics and complex composition (seven per cent) are also listened to widely. Overall, around 5.2 million (17 per cent) motorists say that they only listen to this type of music, like pop and rap, which means that nearly a fifth of the UK's motorists may not be fully concentrating when driving.
Over a million young motorists aged 18-34 years (14 per cent), say they have listened to music that makes them feel either angry or aggressive while driving, with around the same number (1.08 million, or 13 per cent) admitting to having broken down in tears while behind the wheel. The highest proportion within this age group (17 per cent) occurred within the younger 18-24-year age bracket. In contrast, one in 11 (nine per cent) of those aged 35-54 years have listened to music that made them cry, falling to five per cent of those over the age of 55.
These emotional triggers while driving have resulted in heightened danger, with one million young people saying that the music they listen to while driving has distracted them to the point where they have had a near miss with another vehicle, and a further 316,000 saying that the music they listened to had resulted in a collision.
Professor Costas Karageorghis from Brunel University London, said: "The most important thing to consider when listening to music while driving is to ensure you are not mentally overloaded. A number of internal and external factors can influence this, but one of the easiest to control is our choice of auditory stimulation, whether it be talk radio, podcasts or music. Through minimising distractions, motorists are much better able to focus on the road and therefore stand a better chance of identifying potential hazards in good time.
"The main implication of this simulation study from a safety perspective is that drivers should consider the use of soft, non-lyrical music to optimise their mental state when driving in a stressful urban environment."
Simon Henrick, head of news at Direct Line, commented: "Music often plays an integral role in driving, from making the experience more enjoyable to improving our mood. These findings are therefore really interesting from a safety perspective, as they show that music can influence your level of focus when behind the wheel. In towns and cities there are so many potential risks, like pedestrians, cyclists, crossings and traffic lights, so it makes sense to listen to music that keeps you calm but alert.
"The great thing about music is that it caters to everyone, so while we're not telling drivers to change their preferences, we want to highlight the impact it can have on how someone drives. We would suggest that people are mindful of what they're listening to and how it could affect both their emotions and their levels of concentration, especially in towns and cities."
Direct Line and Brunel have provided the following top five tips for choosing the safest music for driving:
1. Keep it calm: Avoid aggressive lyrics as these can prompt dangerous and risk-taking driving behaviours such as jumping red lights and speeding
2. Keep it simple: Music that is highly syncopated or rhythmically complicated should also be avoided
3. Keep it quieter: The music volume shouldn't be excessive and kept at under 75 decibels, otherwise there is an increased risk of missing important sounds, such as an approaching motorcycle
4. Keep it classic: It is advisable to use familiar, well-known tracks or those from the driver's preferred genre, which are likely to have more of a feel-good flavour
5. Keep it light: Avoid music that might have a negative impact on emotional state
- ENDS -
Notes to Editors
1 The potentially distracting effects of processing lyrics through exposing young drivers to the same piece of music with/without lyrics and at different sound intensities (60 dBA [soft] and 75 dBA [loud]) were investigated using a counterbalanced, within-subjects design (N = 34; Mage = 22.2 years, SD = 2.0 years). Six simulator conditions were included that comprised low-intensity music with/without lyrics, high-intensity music with/without lyrics, plus two controls - ambient in-car noise and spoken lyrics (see https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1369847821001303).
2 Research conducted by Opinium among a nationally representative sample of 2,000 people, of which 1,423 (71%) drove a car regularly, between 28th May and 1st June 2021.
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