It’s hard to deny that music and driving go hand in hand. Motorists who enjoy music turn up the volume, belt out the lyrics, and have all the feels when their favorite song comes on the car radio. Characters in movies drive through the country or city streets listening to a song that helps set the mood of the scene. Travelers create the perfect road trip playlists for cross-country journeys with their best friend or family. And James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke,” or Wayne, Garth, and friends lip-synching to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the movie Wayne’s World, seems to prove that singing in your car is more popular than singing in the shower, rain, or anywhere really. However, have you ever wondered how music affects your driving? Here’s what the research says.
1. Music can positively impact a driver’s mood and performance.
We know that music alone can make us feel good. Whether you’re listening through your headphones at the gym or a pair of speakers at home, there’s evidence that music produces the same feel-good hormones you get when you hug a loved one. It’s also associated with immunity-boosting antibodies and can be an effective treatment for a variety of conditions like premature birth and Parkinson’s disease (to name a few).
Similarly, studies have found that listening to music you like while driving can help influence safe behavior, positively impact mood, lower breathing rate, reduce driver stress and aggression, and help drivers focus. Additionally, driving performance in high-demand situations was not found to be negatively affected by music. Music fans, rejoice!
2. Music could distract teenagers when driving.
Alas, not all studies show music has a positive influence on drivers — specifically teenage drivers. One study found that music itself can interfere with a teen’s ability to stay focused while on the road and have a hazardous influence on their driving.
Researchers compared the driving behavior of teens who listened to their own music to no music and a “safe driving” instrumental soundtrack (such as easy listening, soft rock, and light jazz) created by the researchers. They found that 98% of the teens who listened to their own music had significantly more driving errors, including dangerous behaviors like speeding, careless lane switching, tailgating, aggression, miscalculation, and weaving.
Why might this be? Apparently, the teen participants tended to play their own music louder than the other music, which heart monitors showed increased their heart rate. The type of music teens preferred, such as energetic, fast-paced music, may also have an impact. In general, loud music — approximately 120 to 130 decibels — may be a noise distraction for inexperienced drivers (more so than experienced drivers) and an increased heart rate can cause a driver to become careless.
3. The tempo of a song may affect drivers.
The same study that says a teen’s preferred music may affect their driving also concluded that not all music has the same effects on drivers. Maybe it’s volume, or perhaps it’s…the song’s speed? To answer this question, London University psychologist Dr. Simon Moore studied a small sample of eight drivers. He found that songs with a fast, upbeat tempo (as well as a loud, noisy volume) could cause a person to drive dangerously. According to him, the ideal song tempo for safe driving should mimic the human heartbeat which is around 60 to 80 beats per minute. Wondering which songs are “safe?” A UK car insurance company has gone through the trouble of analyzing which songs meet the criteria.
20 Safest Songs to Listen to While Driving
- “Come Away with Me” by Norah Jones
- “Billionaire” by Travie McCoy, (Feat. Bruno Mars)
- “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz
- “The Scientist” by Coldplay
- “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John
- “Cry Me a River” by Justin Timberlake
- “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” by Aerosmith
- “Karma Police” by Radiohead
- “Never Had a Dream Come True” by S Club 7
- “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver
- “God’s Plan” by Drake
- “Lucid Dreams by Juice WRLD
- “SADI” by XXXTENTACION
- “Taste” by Tyga (Feat. Offset)
- “All the Stars (with SZA)” by Kendrick Lamar
- “Eastside (with Halsey & Khalid)” by Benny Blanco
- “2002” by Anne-Marie
- “River” by Eminem (Feat. Ed Sheeran)
- “Feel It Still” by Portugal. The Man
You can listen to all of their 50 recommended songs on the Spotify playlist here.
And which music should you avoid? Due to their speedy tempo and high-intensity energy, here are some of the most dangerous songs to listen to while driving.
- “The Greatest Show” by Hugh Jackman
- “Paradise” by George Ezra
- “One Kiss (with Dua Lipa)” by Calvin Harris
- “Jackie Chan” by Tiesto
- “Youngblood” by 5 Seconds of Summer
- “Lullaby” by Sigala
- “Answerphone (feat. Yxing Bane)” by Banx & Ranx
- “If You’re Over Me” by Years & Years
- “Hey Mama” by The Black Eyes Peas
- “Dead on Arrival” by Fall Out Boy
- “Paper Planes” by M.I.A
- “How You Remind Me” by Nickelback
- “Paradise City” by Guns N’ Roses
- “Hit the Road, Jack” by Ray Charles
- “Heartless” by Kanye West