Personally, I like driving. I particularly like driving alone. My reasons for this have to do in part with the fact that I love having that extended period of time where I have the chance to sit and listen to music and jam out in the car by myself. Music just makes me a lot more laid back and happy in general. However many people, such as my own father, believe that listening to music in the car leads to distracted driving. My dad likes to tell me not to listen to music in the car. Sorry dad, but I’m not about to sit in utter silence for long drives, even if I do think you might be right. It makes sense logically that music would be distracting while driving, or would at least affect our driving, however I wanted to find some actual research that back up this anecdotal claim.
I formed the null hypothesis that listening to music in the car does not affect our driving, and the alternative hypothesis that listening to music in the car does affect our driving in some way.
First I found this study, the purpose of which was to look at the braking response time in relation to music volume levels. The study was done with 16 men and 11 women, all licensed drivers, and all between the ages of 19 and 23 years old. They were tested with a driving apparatus in a laboratory that imitated movements involved in driving a car. They went through the test four times, once without music, two more times with music increasing in volume each time, and a forth time while holding a phone conversation with one of the researchers. I was highly disappointed to see that the results of this study showed that listening to music did not greatly affect response times. However, it would be logically to say that these results may be due to external variables. For example, the participants may have been so focused on doing well that they just tuned out the music. They knew they were being tested on driving accuracy so they focused more on the driving and not as much on the music than they normally would have. The music may have also had something to do with it. I know if I’m listening to a song playing that I don’t know, I’m less likely to pay much attention to it. Maybe if the participants were allowed to pick their favorite song to play, like they would do if they were actually driving in their own cars, it would’ve shown how distracted people normally get by music in their cars. I do think that if they used a larger sample size, the results may have been different.
Another study, done in the UK with around 1000 participants ranging through all ages, had similar results. The way they gather their information, however, was almost solely through anecdotes. The researchers had the participants answer questions on what music they were listening to, how loud it was, how it made them feel, and other such things. So basically a lot of the information was based on whether or not the person claimed that music made them feel for relaxed, focused, distracted, etc. They did look at driving records and accident reports for the participants. 23 percent of the drivers who had been involved in accidents reported that music had been playing at the time. Considering this wasn’t the majority, it cannot be said that music had a clear direct causation with the accidents. The results were essentially non-conclusive. It could not be said whether or not music made drivers more distracted or not.
Altogether, I’m disappointed that all of the studies I was able to find did not give me conclusive results. It seems that either the wrong studies are being done, not enough studies have been done, or there aren’t enough people involved in the studies to really get good results. I can neither accept nor reject my null hypothesis, because in some cases, music seemed to affect driving while in others it did not. I do believe though, and I’m sure many people would agree with me, that music does affect driving even if there isn’t solid evidence to support this claim.